U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Tuesday that it is creating the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Employment Compliance Unit, a full-time unit dedicated to monitoring and investigating employer and student compliance with OPT and Curricular Practical Training (CPT) programs.

The OPT Employment Compliance Unit will have authority to:

  • Report its findings in annual public reports, including details on the duties, hours and compensation of OPT workers as compared to data from the Labor Department. The first report will be published on ICE.gov by July 31.
  • Recommend investigations of employers and students to the Homeland Security Investigations unit and refer evidence of unlawful practices to appropriate agencies, such as reporting wage violations to the Labor Department and discriminatory hiring practices to the Justice Department.
  • Monitor whether employers are adhering to the attestations and training plans required of OPT-STEM extension programs, including conducting worksite visits to ensure that foreign students are employed under terms and conditions commensurate with those of U.S. workers.

Background: The OPT and CPT programs allow F-1 students to be employed under qualifying training programs for up to 12 months. In 2008, the OPT-STEM extension was introduced allowing eligible students with STEM degrees to extend their one-year OPT program for an additional 17 months. In 2016, a regulation replaced the 17-month OPT-STEM extension with a 24-month OPT-STEM extension.

BAL Analysis: The announcement states that the new unit is intended to ensure that employers are not using OPT programs in a way that harms U.S. workers or foreign student employees. Employers should anticipate greater scrutiny and enforcement of all requirements under OPT, OPT-STEM extension and CPT programs, and are encouraged to review their policies and procedures. BAL can assist in a compliance review and assessment.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact berryapplemanleiden@bal.com.

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