U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) has recently increased site visits for employers who employ F-1 students under STEM OPT (short for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Optional Practical Training) work authorization. While ICE has had this authority since the STEM regulations were passed in 2016, the agency only recently started conducting site visits to ensure that employers and F-1 students remain in compliance with the regulations governing F-1 STEM OPT work authorization.
What Is STEM OPT?
STEM OPT allows eligible F-1 visa students with STEM degrees from accredited U.S. colleges or universities to apply for an additional 24 months of Occupational Practical Training. This is in addition to the initial, one-year post-completion OPT granted to all non-STEM-degree F-1 students. In addition to the STEM degree requirements, the F-1 visa student must secure employment with a bona fide employer, work a minimum of 20 hours per week for that employer, and the employer must provide a formal, practical training and learning program within the STEM field which is related to the F-1 student’s degree. Details of the training program are outlined by the employer on Form I-983, which is submitted to and approved by the Designated School Official at the F-1 student’s academic institution.
You did everything right. You got into the best school, you got the necessary work experience, you found an employer willing to sponsor you for an H-1B visa, and you filed on April 1. However, despite all your work, your case was not selected as part of this year’s H-1B lottery. Through forces beyond your control, you are now back to square one, wondering whether you must now leave the United States.
But wait! There may still be an alternative visa option available to you within the alphabet soup of U.S. work visas. So, before throwing in the towel and packing your bags, you may want to consider the list of alternative U.S. work visa categories below. One of these alternative visas may offer you the best chance for future employment in the United States – and while the list is not conclusive, it represents the most likely options for you to secure U.S. work authorization. (more…)