The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently made a change to its website regarding the training of students with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees approved for optional practical training (OPT).
Pursuant to the 2016 STEM OPT final rule, the student worker’s training plan must be signed by the entity that has a bona fide employment relationship with the student, and the bona fide employer must have sufficient resources and trained or supervisory personnel available to provide appropriate training in connection with the specified training opportunity at the location where the student’s practical training experience will take place. The USCIS’s website has now been updated to state that the STEM OPT training “must take place onsite at the employer's place of business or worksite(s) to which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has authority to conduct site visits to ensure the employer is meeting program requirements.”
This means that ICE must always have access to a student’s worksite and any offsite placement, including at a third-party worksite, is prohibited. USCIS notes that the training experience may not take place at the place of business or worksite of the employer’s clients or customers because ICE would lack authority to visit such sites.
USCIS also indicates that staffing and temporary agencies may seek to employ students under the STEM OPT program, but only if they will be the entity that provides the practical training experience to the student at its own place of business and they have a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student. Such entities may not assign or contract out students to work for one of their customers or clients, and assign, or otherwise delegate, their training responsibilities to the customer or client.
While the change reflects only the agency’s interpretation of the rule and not a change to the rule of law itself, it demonstrates the recent trend of increased oversight from USCIS and ICE.