U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has revised its website to state that STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) can only take place at the employer’s own worksite, not third-party sites.

Key points:

  • USCIS recently updated its website to state that the STEM OPT “training experience must take place on-site at the employer’s place of business or worksite(s),” and that training “may not take place at the place of business or worksite of the employer’s clients or customers.”
  • The agency also has made it clear that it will bar “online or distance learning arrangements,” e.g., arrangements where the student works offsite but makes periodic visits to the employer’s place of business or where the student works offsite and places periodic phone calls or emails to discuss their training.

Background: The OPT program allows eligible F-1 students with degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics to apply for a STEM OPT extension after an initial period of regular post-completion OPT. An Obama administration regulation expanded the STEM OPT extension from 17 months to 24 months, but also included new employer obligations and enforcement provisions, including one allowing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to conduct unannounced employer site visits. USCIS is citing this provision as the basis to not allow F-1 STEM OPT students to complete training at third-party worksites, saying that “ICE would lack authority to visit such sites.”

BAL Analysis: While STEM OPT regulations do not expressly bar students from working at third-party sites, USCIS has stated in this website update that doing so would undermine the government’s ability to conduct site visits to enforce program requirements. Employers who have STEM OPT students working at third-party sites, or who are hosting STEM OPT students who work for another employer, are encouraged to work with BAL to make sure they remain in compliance with USCIS policy.

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

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