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There are a number potential compliance issues a student and/or her employer may face, and the relevant government agencies tend to target different areas at different times – we have only briefly addressed a few of these below for illustrative purposes. To ensure compliance with the rules, it is important to discuss with an experienced immigration attorney.
STEM OPT Site Visit
Students with science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees may be eligible for a 24-month extension of optional practical training (OPT), after having received 12 months of OPT. As part of the STEM OPT extension, the student and her employer are required to sign a Form I-983 identifying training goals for the student and describing the methods of employer’s supervision and oversight of the student.
To ensure that the STEM OPT training requirements are being met, in accordance with the signed Form I-983, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is authorized to perform site visits to the locations that train STEM OPT students.
Generally, ICE will provide at least 48-hours’ notice, unless the visit is triggered by evidence of non-compliance. As part of the site visit, ICE may interview the student and her employer to confirm that the employer is providing sufficient supervision of the student. This can be particularly challenging when the student is consulting off-site, as is common in the Information Technology industry. Additionally, ICE may require evidence from the employer to determine how the employer assessed the wages of similarly situated U.S. workers. Importantly, ICE may report its findings to other government agencies, including local law enforcement, the Department of Labor, and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). Thus, it is important that the student and her employer consult with an experienced immigration attorney to avoid potentially serious complications that can arise out of a site visit.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) gives the student work authorization that is granted by the school. The general rule is that a student is eligible for CPT only after completing one full academic year of study. However, there is an exception to this rule for students enrolled in graduate studies that require immediate participation in CPT.
Many schools do not grant immediate CPT as a general policy. However, there are several U.S. institutions that routinely grant immediate CPT. In recent years, immediate CPT has been a favorite target for USCIS whenever a student seeks to change status from F-1 to another status, such as H-1B. For students enrolled at schools that routinely grant immediate CPT, USCIS has been requiring voluminous records from the student to prove she has appropriately maintained her F1 status. Such requests generally include tuition receipts and attendance records to show the student was attending classes, policy memos and course catalogs from the school to show that immediate CPT is required as part of an established curriculum for the student’s major, and travel receipts and bank statements from the student if the student’s place of employment is not within a normal commuting distance of campus.
If the student is unaware of the potential for these burdensome requests and does not keep good records, it is possible USCIS could deny a change of status request – or other request for immigration benefits – merely because the student could not produce evidence to prove she maintained her status. USCIS could also declare that the student violated her status, which would require the student to leave the U.S. or risk being removed.
For the student to put herself in the best position and stay in the government’s good graces, and for an employer to ensure that the student’s employment is not interrupted, it is important to discuss with an experienced immigration attorney at Sam Shihab & Associates.
Unlike other “dual intent” visas such as the H-1B and L-1, the F1 visa has a “nonimmigrant intent” requirement. This requirement means, essentially, that the student is coming to the U.S. for school only and intends to return home after completing her studies.
To establish “nonimmigrant intent,” the student must generally show strong ties to her homeland, such as family, friends, property, and employment opportunities that remain abroad.
This intent can certainly change over time, but this assessment will be made by the U.S. government officials every time the student seeks admission to the U.S. on F1 visa after travelling abroad. Thus, if a student has a potential employer file an immigrant petition on her behalf, her ability to re-enter the U.S. after travelling abroad may be jeopardized, which could then jeopardize the employment opportunity itself. For every student on F1 visa, it is therefore important to discuss your travel plans with an experienced immigration attorney.
Hire a Skilled Law Firm
Advice from a good immigration lawyer is imperative for all international students and their employers. The knowledgeable attorneys at Sam Shihab & Associates can help by providing sound legal advice and services. Our offices are in Dublin and Columbus, Ohio and in Troy, Michigan, but we also work with clients from all parts of the world. From anywhere in the world, feel free to phone or email one of our skilled attorneys at Sam Shihab & Associates, so we can talk about your specific visa needs and options.