Are you hiring STEM OPT students for full-time employment? Do you track training requirements for all those students as per the ICE regulations?
Yes, ICE states that employers and the STEM OPT students should complete the Form I-983, that clearly articulates the student’s learning objectives and affirms the employer’s commitment to helping the student achieve those objectives. These are mandated for all the companies hiring STEM OPT Students for full-time employment. But, most organizations do not track the requirement to enroll such employees into mandatory Training programs and end up being non-compliant.
Let’s get into a detailed view of who are STEM OPT students and how their I-983s should be completed.
International students in the US can gain on-the-job learning experience by participating in the training opportunities provided by the country.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program allows F-1 visa students with an F-1 visa to gain on-job experience directly related to their major. A student must complete the CPT program before graduation. One can take part in either part-time (20 hours or less a week) or full time (20 hours or more a week) CPT. However, if a student works full-time for 12 months in CPT, they will be ineligible for OPT.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) program allows international students with an F-1 visa to work up to 12 months in relation to their major of study. A student can take part in OPT program after completing their first academic year. OPT can be completed both during or after completing the studies, but a student can work only for 12 months under OPT program.
A non-immigrant F-1 student with a degree in either of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields and who are working on OPT can apply for a STEM OPT extension. As per this program, students are eligible for a 24-month extension after the completion of their OPT. However, DHS requires a 60-day grace period between completion of an initial post-completion OPT and a STEM OPT extension.
Did you know only those employers who are enrolled in the E-Verify program are eligible for the STEM OPT program?
Any student who is applying for the STEM OPT extension must complete Form I-983 along with the corresponding employer before requesting for the STEM OPT extension. This form must include the student’s objectives and their training plans. Students and their employers must complete and sign Form I-983 and submit it to the student’s DSO.
ICE has the authority to conduct site visits to verify that employers are complying with STEM OPT requirements and meeting the obligations of Form I-983 training plans. These are to ensure that your organization is compliant with all the STEM OPT requirements and with the training plan mentioned in I-983.
Most employers pose a risk of non-compliance due to improper completion and retention of Form I-983s. However, you are at no risk, if you are completing Form I-983s accurately and retaining all the necessary documentation in place.
Form I-983 includes multiple sections each of which comes with a defined set of instructions.
This article would provide you a step-by-step guide in the completion of Form I-983 as per the ICE guidelines.
Section-1 includes Student Information and should be completed by the student.
Student should review the information and should affirm by signing this section
As an employer, it is your responsibility to complete this Section-3 which includes Employer Information.
Employer should review this section carefully and should affirm the statements by signing and dating the section.
In order to ensure the benefits and integrity of the STEM OPT program, DHS mandates the student and their employers to finalize a training plan which defines the student’s objectives and a plan for executing those objectives.
Employer who is familiar with the student’s goals and responsible for supervising the student during the employment period should review the information and sign this section.
Note: The individual who signs this Certification need not be, but can be, the same individual who signed the Employer Certification in Section 4
This section completion is a shared responsibility of both the employer and the student to ensure that the student’s training goals are met. Students are responsible for submitting a self-evaluation which will be reviewed and signed by the employer.
Student evaluations should be completed at the following times:
Upon completing the evaluation, student should sign, print name, and enter the date of signature. Upon completion of the review, employer should also sign, print name, and date the signature in acceptance with the evaluation submitted by the student.
Once the student and the prospective employer complete and sign the Form I-983, it should be submitted to the DSO by the student. The DSO must review the form to ensure its completion.
The DSO is also responsible for keeping the Form I-983 and self-evaluations in the student’s record. The student must submit the 12-month and final evaluations no later than 10 days following the conclusion of the appropriate reporting period. If in case, the training ends early, the student must submit the final evaluation within 10 days following the conclusion. The DSO may retain all evaluations in either electronic or hard copy, and these documents must be accessible within 30 days of submission to the DSO.
Most employers consider completion of Form I-983 as a challenging task, due to the complexity that persists in understanding the requirements. OnBlick’s Form I-983 module can help you with that. It helps in electronic completion of the form, tracking material changes, and student evaluations. It guides employers and the students in completion of the form as per the federal guidelines and ensures readiness for ICE audits.