New policy guidance could lead to greater scrutiny of OPT, STEM-OPT training programs

16 Oct 19

UNITED STATES

A policy guidance released by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program indicates that F-1 students in Optional Practical Training or STEM-OPT extension programs must provide the designated school official (DSO) with a description of how their training program is directly related to their major area of study. While a direct relationship with the field of study is required for these programs, schools have never previously been required to keep and or review documentation relating to the requirement.

Key points:

  • F-1 students are now responsible for providing the DSO with a written description of how their training program directly relates to their major.
  • The DSO is responsible for reviewing and retaining this new information in SEVIS and/or in the student’s file. The DSO must determine whether there is a direct relationship between the training and the student’s major. If the DSO has concerns about whether a direct relationship exists, they should ask the student for additional documentation.
  • DSOs may direct students to report their information to the SEVP student portal, but they may need to implement spot-checks to ensure that the student is entering the appropriate information. Students who fail to report information in a timely manner may be deemed to be in violation of their nonimmigrant status.

BAL Analysis: The policy guidance lays out the compliance responsibilities of designated school officials in determining whether a student’s degree is directly related to employment under an OPT or STEM-OPT program. While the guidance provides various examples of how seemingly unrelated connections between a degree and a job could occur, the requirements could lead DSOs to more closely scrutinize OPT applications and decline to recommend OPT employment in cases where the direct relationship is not clearly demonstrated. The Trump administration has indicated an increased focus on the OPT and STEM-OPT programs. Earlier this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement began conducting site visits of employers of OPT and STEM-OPT students.    

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

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