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ICE site visits for students on STEM OPT: What employers need to know

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased on-site inspections at companies that employ F-1 students pursuant to STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization.

The purpose of these inspections is to ensure the companies and F-1 students are complying with their approved STEM OPT Training Plan. Penalties for noncompliance with STEM OPT rules include termination of the student’s STEM OPT employment authorization.

Notice of Site Visit

While ICE normally provides 48 hours advance notice to the employer, a site visit may occur without notice if triggered by a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance.

A Notice of Site Visit typically includes:

  • The date of the scheduled visit
  • A list of STEM OPT F-1 foreign nationals whose training has been selected for inspection
  • A request for a copy of each named F-1 trainee’s Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students
  • A request for other documentation related to the organization’s STEM OPT training program, at ICE’s discretion

Planning for STEM OPT worksite visits

Each company worksite (including third-party worksites) that employs F-1 students pursuant to STEM OPT should plan for a potential unannounced ICE site visit.

To adequately prepare for STEM OPT worksite visits, employers should conduct their own internal reviews to ensure they are well-versed with the contents of the STEM OPT student training plan forms (Forms I-983) and to ensure compliance with STEM OPT reporting requirements.

The attorneys at Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm recommend designating a company representative, such as an HR or Immigration Manager, and an alternate with ready access to, and familiarity with, the contents of the company’s internal STEM OPT files.

During a STEM OPT worksite visit, a company’s designated representative should:

  • Request the identification for the investigator, including their business card.
  • Request that experienced immigration counsel be present during the site visit either in person or by phone.
  • Hold conversations with the investigator in enclosed offices.
  • Ensure that the investigator is very specific on what they want to see.
  • Tell the investigator that any requested documents will be prepared and sent to their office.
  • Accompany the investigator at all times and take detailed notes.

A company’s designated representative should not:

  • Speak with the government agents or contractors without a witness present.
  • Allow the investigator to speak alone with anyone, including the F-1 trainee.
  • Allow the investigator to remove any documents from the company’s files.
  • Hand over information that may be privileged or confidential that is not necessary for the investigator’s purpose.

STEM OPT worksite visits: Details and information

The inspection will likely include individual interviews with company personnel. ICE may request to view F-1 trainee workspaces or receive a tour of the premises. ICE may also ask employers to provide the evidence they used to assess wages of similarly situated U.S. workers.

Managers, supervisors, and third-party worksite clients/customers should be advised of the possibility of an ICE worksite visit and be prepared to answer questions on the following:

  • The information provided in the trainee’s Form I-983
  • The nature of the trainee’s role in the organization
  • How the role relates to the trainee’s degree, academic program and qualifications
  • What qualifications managers look for when hiring for similar positions
  • The nature of the manager’s supervision and training
  • Whether the trainee is placed at a third-party worksite

A request will be sent to the employer in writing with specific instructions if ICE determines that an employer or student needs to submit updated or corrected information.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm at 704-442-8000 or via email with any questions.

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