HS Clarifies STEM OPT Rules

New information on reporting obligations and outside training.

Update: The DHS is making a concerted effort to clarify compliance requirements for those working on Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT). Today, USCIS clarified three items within the STEM OPT program (students pursuing employment through standard non-STEM OPT are not affected):

  1. Employer Reporting: Employers must report STEM OPT student’s termination of employment or departure to the school’s DSO within 5 business days.
  2. Employee Reporting: Students must report certain changes, such as changes to their location of employment, or changes to their employer’s name and address to their DSO within 10 business days.
  3. Third-Party Locations: DHS may allow students to complete training outside of the employer’s principal place of business (at a third-party location) so long as the DHS determines that, during the period at the alternative location, all of the standard STEM OPT training obligations are met, including the existence of a bonafide employer-employee relationship between the employer and the STEM OPT Employee. This is a change from a prior policy that prohibited third-party placement of STEM OPT students. Such placement is now permitted on a case-by-case basis.

As in the past, all changes are reported to the DSO (and through the DSO to DHS) by submitting a modified Form I-983.

Penalties for Non-Compliance: Although not referenced in this update from USCIS, DHS has the ability to deny STEM OPT extensions with employers that DHS determines have failed to comply with the regulations.

Impact: As a result of these clarifications, employer and their STEM OPT employees should ensure they submit updated Form I-983s whenever there are changes to employment keeping in mind the stringent deadlines.

Analysis: The DHS’s narrow requirements and continued scrutiny of STEM OPT program participants are in line with the current trend of focused attention on immigration matters. In practice, this update will hopefully clarify DHS’s expectations and deter inadvertent violations.