Foreign students who have F-1 visas often take advantage of optional practical training. This period of employment allows students to work in an area related to the major field of study before or after graduation. Individuals regularly use OPT before applying for an H-1B visa or even adjusting status to legal permanent residency.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has the authority to visit employers that employ science, technology, engineering and math F-1 students on OPT. The purpose of these visits is to investigate compliance with OPT rules. Among other things, employers have an obligation to involve OPT STEM students in a work-based learning experience. Whether you are an employer, an OPT student or a designated school official, you should prepare now for a possible site visit.
As an employer, the most beneficial step you can take to prepare for a DHS site visit is to review the student’s I-983 form. When doing so, make sure the form has accurate information. Then, compare the training plan with what the OPT employee is actually doing. Finally, check your audit file to ensure it is both complete and accurate.
DHS site visits can be a bit discombobulating for students. You do not have to panic, though. If you are a STEM student in an OPT program, you should check the accuracy of your I-983. In particular, verify that the name and address of your employer are correct. If there are errors, use the SEVP portal to make appropriate changes.
DSOs may have little involvement in an OPT employer site visit. Nonetheless, as a school official, you may be the point of contact for DHS officers. Reviewing the protocols for site visits is a good idea. Also, work with STEM OPT students to confirm all information in the SEVIS system is correct.
Recent advisories from DHS indicate employer site visits are on the rise. As such, it is critical to prepare for them as much as possible. Remember, whether you are an employer, F-1 student or DSO, you bear some responsibility for ensuring the site visit is successful.