It is being reported by Forbes, that ICE has now started site investigations of OPT STEM workers to verify that their employment is in compliance with USCIS regulations and policy. The 2 primary questions they are likely to address are: 1. Is the student being paid at least a Level 1 prevailing wage ? and 2. Is the student being provided training by their employer in accordance with the training program (I-983) submitted to the school and the USCIS ? As an employer, now may be a good time to audit your OPT STEM workforce and insure that you are in compliance.
The Trump Administration has handed down a new policy memorandum targeting international students by changing the definition of unlawful presence to essentially be synonymous with a status violation. The new memo is slated to go into effect on Aug 9, 2018. The penalty for accruing 180 days of unlawful presence is a 3 year bar from the U.S. The application of the memo to actions that occurred prior to Aug 18, 2018 are quite complicated and must be assessed on a case by case basis. However, what is clear, is that any status violations that occur after Aug 9, 2018 will be treated as accruing unlawful presence. For those OPT STEM students working in the staffing industry, it is believed that this new policy change is directed precisely at you to self-enforce the new prohibitions promulgated by a web-site update that all but essentially prohibits OPT STEM students from being employed by staffing firms at 3rd party sites. There is a public comment period that is open until June 11, 2018. Changes to this policy memo based upon public comments are possible prior to Aug 9, 2018. We will update as developments occur.
According to a PEW study, until 2016, the US saw a huge increase in the number of international students graduating from US schools and remaining in the US to work in STEM jobs. Over the next 2 years, it will be interesting to see if this number drops drastically due to recent policy changes by the Trump Administration which have significantly curtailed the use of the OPT STEM program and have placed a number of additional obstacles in the way of international grads seeking STEM related jobs.
There remains a number of unanswered questions regarding the Jan 2018 web-site changes to the use of the OPT STEM program in the circumstances of a 3rd party placement but, several schools have issued announcements indicating that no 3rd party placements are appropriate for OPT STEM workers. Below is the interpretation and direction from one US school. Dear Employer, This email describes a very important update in the interpretation by USCIS of STEM OPT requirements for staffing companies who are supervising STEM OPT employment. We are notifying many students, alumni, and employers about this change, so kindly disregard this notice if it does not apply to you. https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/students-and-employment/stem-opt#_Eligibility_for_the Our university offers international F-1 visa students three sequential phases of full-time employment: 1. Curricular Practical Training (CPT): 12 months or longer of employment. 2. Post completion Optional Practical Training (OPT year 1): 12 months of employment. 3. STEM extension of OPT: 24 additional months of employment after OPT year 1 has ended. The STEM OPT regulation that USCIS dramatically clarified last week is highlighted here: “The Employer’s Training Obligation: Staffing and Temporary Agencies “Staffing and temporary agencies may seek to employ students under the STEM OPT program, but only if they will be the entity that provides the practical training experience to the student at its own place of business… “Such entities may not, however, assign or contract out students to work for one of their customers or clients, and assign, or otherwise delegate, their training responsibilities to the customer or client… “Moreover, the student’s practical training experience must be provided by the employer’s own trained or supervisory personnel at the employer’s own place of business or worksite(s), to which ICE has authority to conduct employer site visits to ensure that the employer is meeting program requirements…” Our university is not [...]