The scope of international students to enter into a U.S. based organization has increased tremendously. With the provision of supplementing their practical approach to the subject, the students get into various jobs depending upon the major area of study.
The F-1 Visa status allows international students to work on work permits such as OPT, CPT which can part-time or full time, paid or unpaid. The CPT work permit allows students to work either during or after their graduation. The OPT work permit allows the students to work for 12 months after they complete their graduation. It is important to note here that if you have opted for 12 months or more of full-time CPT, it can invalidate your OPT eligibility status.
Optional Practical Training is a provision of temporary employment with regards to a student’s F-1 visa status. The eligible students can file for 12 months of OPT work authorization either pre-completion or post-completion of their graduation.
For OPT work authorization, you require no offer letter or any employer sponsorship to apply. Just that a student must have been enrolled in 1 year of academics before application. But it is not so in the case of STEM OPT.
Let us have a look into OPT Visa Sponsorship:
International students in valid F-1 visa status who graduate from a U.S. university or college are eligible for up to 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) and is directly related to their major. Graduates with valid OPT work authorization can work for any U.S. employer so long as the work follows the requirements of employing international workers.
STEM OPT and Its Qualifications
STEM OPT is a provision for extending standard OPT tenure. It applies to students who are enrolled in the categories of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths to apply for an extension of up to 24 months after the completion of the 12-month standard OPT term.
The student must have completed their graduate, postgraduate, and/or doctoral degree from an institute that has accreditations from a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency. It must have also had certifications from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
The students with F-1 status, after completion of their STEM studies and their standard post-completion OPT, can apply for STEM extension in a job profile which categorically falls under their STEM approved major area of study. To apply for a STEM extension, the student must be in their valid OPT period.
The employer looking to employ or apply for STEM for the international students working at their firm will need to be enrolled in the E-verify employment eligibility verification program. The employer must have detailed training and learning objectives compiled for their STEM candidates and must provide a minimum of 20 hours of weekly work.
List of STEM degrees eligible for STEM OPT
The Department of Homeland security has compiled a list of degrees that come under the category of STEM. It allows the eligible students under these degrees to apply for STEM extension under an F-1 visa.
Under the general rule, the DHS considers the field which is involved with the development, research, and innovation with the use of engineering, mathematics, computer science or natural sciences, including physical, biological, and agricultural sciences.
Click here to know which the DHS is approved list of Programs under STEM.
How to apply for STEM OPT?
To apply for a STEM extension, there are certain things that the students must look into.
The documents needed for the application are:
- The student must provide an I-765 form at least 90 days prior to the expiration of the current OPT status.
- The employer must be enrolled in E-verify and should have E-Verify Company Identification Number.
- The student must provide a copy of their STEM degree.
- The student must attach an I-20 form which should be endorsed by their DSO in less than 60 days.
Employers can choose to have little to no involvement with the OPT application process, however, students are required to report general employment information to the Designated Official. With regard to traveling, they may apply for an Employment Verification Letter. STEM OPT carries additional employer requirements.
The essentials for the employer sponsoring the STEM OPT
The employer must work together with the student’s DSO and follow the reporting requirements, before hiring the STEM employee. Employer, alongside the student and the DSO, must formulate a training plan which constitutes the entire employment period of the student.
STEM extension will be approved for the students only if the employer signs I-983 as the students need this form to validate their application. Also, ensure that the supervisor signing the student’s training plan must be the same person who further elaborates on all job training aspects to the student.
If any changes happen to the training plan, the DSO must be informed immediately. Furthermore, the students are to report to their DSOs half-yearly and simultaneously validate their legal name, address, employer name and address, job status, and practical training plan and experience, as well as complete a self-evaluation annually.
If STEM OPT students are terminated or leave the job for any reason, the employer must inform the concerned DSO within 5 business days.
Formal Visits in Connection to STEM OPT Students
All the companies which employ international students must be ready for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) visits. These visits mainly involve questioning the international students and the managers at companies where OPT and STEM OPT students work.
Though the power to inspect lay with ICE since the 2016 amendment, Forbes reported that the first rounds were made in august 2019 to understand the work environment, the proper pay, and the compliance of the training plan. USCIS, in April 2018, put out a statement that denied the possibility of placing an international student to work at a third-party workplace, but it was retracted soon in the light of social commentary.
The firm specifies that “The inspection may include individual interviews with company personnel, a review and discussion of the foreign national’s training plan and its implementation, and a review of his or her skills and degree with the STEM degree. ICE may also request to view F-1 trainee workspaces or receive a tour of the premises,”
For STEM OPT students working at third party client, the employer and the third party client must be ready for a visit from the authorities. These site visits are a greater risk to the students than the company. If anything is found to be out of compliance, STEM OPT students face a risk of getting their STEM OPT extension denied, revoked, or terminated as seen fit by the authorities.
As long as all the regulations comply, employing STEM OPT students in your firm will be of no issue but ahead starts in bettering your organization. See to it that timely actions are taken to produce or to submit documents as stated by the federal rules and regulations.
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