F-1 Students: ICE STEM OPT Site Inspections Are Underway

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A closeup view of two U.S. visa pages and one pen

Recent reports show Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has begun making workplace visits in businesses that employ F-1 students in optional practical training (OPT) in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Though ICE was allotted the right to inspect businesses that support OPT in 2016 to make sure they are complying with STEM OPT regulations, the agency only recently began conducting inspections. A company employing STEM OPT workers should be prepared in case ICE visits the office.

How Do People Know if ICE Is Coming?

ICE will usually give 48 hours’ written notice before they come to a place of business, though they may come unannounced if they’re responding to a complaint or have evidence that the company is not complying with STEM OPT regulations.

An inspection may include interviews with personnel, a discussion of the immigrant’s training plan and its implementation, and a review of his or her skills work in relation to the STEM degree. ICE may also view F-1 employee work areas or request a tour of the property.

Why ICE Wants to Check-In

Though there is no evidence to support that foreign students are a risk to the employment opportunities of people born in the U.S., the Trump administration has tried to complicate the OPT experience. In April 2018, USCIS changed its website to prohibit OPT students from working for third-parties.

The May 2016 STEM OPT regulation, which granted ICE the power to check in on F-1 employers, states ICE wants to know if the students are getting paid according to regulation. However, there’s a concern ICE will use these visits to target the students instead of their employers. Companies should be prepared with documentation to aid in these visits.

Specific penalties for employer violations are not described in the regulations, but many claim that violations may create risks for students.

On the Forms I-983, which employers complete to disclose information on their handling of OPT students, the employers accept that DHS may deny, revoke, or terminate the STEM OPT of students whom DHS decides are not complying with the law. This poses a greater risk for the students, who may be taken from their work, than their employers, whose punishments are not clearly defined.