Maintain STEM OPT Compliance
1. The employer and student must adhere to the I-983, and if there is any material change (e.g., reduction in compensation, significant decrease in hours, etc.) both must sign a modified I-983 and provide it to the DSO as soon as possible. The STEM OPT Assistant also allows up to 2 additional, modified I-983s to be uploaded for record keeping.
2. On the I-983, the student must complete a self-evaluation of his or her progress toward the training goals within 12 months of the approved start date, as well as a concluding evaluation. The employer must also sign these evaluations to attest to their accuracy, and both evaluations must be provided to the DSO no later than 10 days following their respective reporting periods (that is, conclusion of the 12-month reporting period and conclusion of the STEM opportunity). There is a place in the STEM OPT Assistant portal to upload both signed evaluations for record keeping.
3. The employer must report the termination or departure of an OPT student to the DSO within five business days of the termination or departure. If the employer does not know of a departure, it is to be inferred if the student has not reported for the training for a period of five consecutive business days without the employer’s consent.
4. If a student on STEM OPT begins a new practical training opportunity with a new employer during the 24-month period, the student must submit a new Form I-983 to the DSO within 10 days of beginning the new opportunity and must also obtain a new DSO recommendation.
5. A student on STEM OPT must report to the student’s DSO a change of legal name, residential or mailing address, employer name, employer address, and/or loss of employment within 10 days of the change. The student must also complete a validation report every six months, confirming that this information has not changed, and provide it to the student’s DSO within 10 business days of each reporting date.
6. The student may only be unemployed for a total of 150 days during the OPT period (60 days for STEM OPT and 90 days for post-completion OPT). Unemployment time is recorded in SEVIS, so the student must timely provide the above updates to the DSO. Additionally, unemployment time accrues even while the I-765 is pending and the student is within the 180-day automatic EAD extension.
Be Prepared for a Potential STEM OPT Site Visit
1. Ensure all relevant parties are aware of the onboarding of a STEM OPT student, including HR and personnel who manage H-1Bs and other employment-based visas.
2. Set up a tickler system to ensure timely completion of STEM OPT self-evaluations, as well as a way to internally monitor material changes in the student’s employment or the termination/departure of the student.
3. Keep a compliance file for each student, including a copy of the signed I-983 plan, documentation used by the employer to assess wages of similarly situated U.S. workers, all self-evaluations completed by the student and signed by the employer, and any relevant internal documentation related to the training and supervision of the student. If the employer hasn’t recently employed more than two other U.S. workers performing similar duties, the employer must obtain wage data about other employers offering employment in the same occupation and same geographic area as the STEM OPT student’s work location. Here is one helpful resource from the Department of Labor: https://www.flcdatacenter.com/OesWizardStart.aspx. This compliance file can be uploaded to the STEM OPT Assistant portal for record keeping.
4. Have a system in place to handle site visits. Make sure all relevant personnel, including front-line employees, such as security officers or administrative staff, understand the system. This includes asking the ICE officer for a business card, asking the officer to wait until a designated employee from the company or institution is called, keeping copies of the STEM OPT compliance file in an accessible location (electronic record keeping through the STEM OPT Assistant portal is acceptable), and writing a detailed report (including questions asked) at the end of the site visit.