USCIS Dials Back New Policy Limiting STEM OPT to In-House Employment

Earlier this year, USCIS updated its STEM OPT website with a more narrow interpretation of the STEM OPT regulations, indicating that all STEM OPT training must take place on-site at the employer’s place of business, thereby limiting an employer's ability to place STEM OPT workers at third-party worksites.  However, the STEM OPT website has once again been updated and USCIS appears to have scaled back this new interpretation. The most recent update removed the the pertinent language from the earlier update which suggested that off-site placement, including placement at a client site, was prohibited. The website now clarifies that employers are not prohibited from placing F-1 workers on STEM OPT at third-party worksites provided that a bona fide employer-employee relationship exists and all other STEM OPT training obligations are met.

More specifically, the updated guidance makes clear that, where an employer and the F-1 student working pursuant to STEM OPT have a valid employer-employee relationship, and that same employer provides the practical training experience and signs the STEM training plan, third party placement would not be prohibited under the STEM OPT regulations.

Employers and employees should continue to ensure all training and reporting obligations are met and F-1 students are reminded that status violations or a failure to maintain their status will result in the accrual of Unlawful Presence under USCIS’s new policy.

Reminders to Students and Employers as H-1B Cap Effective Date Approaches on October 1

As October 1st is fast-approaching, individuals with H-1B petitions that were selected in this year’s H-1B cap and employers of H-1B visa holders should remain aware of some important facts:

CAP-GAP EXTENSIONS END ON SEPTEMBER 30th - For those whose H-1B is still pending and who are relying on the automatic cap-gap for F-1 students, keep in mind that that your cap-gap employment authorization ends on September 30th, even if the H-1B remains pending after this date. Therefore, employees whose H-1B visas are not approved by October 1st will have to stop working and be removed from payroll. Because of this, we recommend considering upgrading to premium processing as soon as possible in order to avoid this consequence or, at the very least, minimize the amount of time you or your employee will be unable to work.

VALID H-1B VISA STAMP REQUIRED FOR REENTRY TO U.S. - While an H-1B employee is not required to have a valid H-1B visa in his or her passport for purposes of employment, they must have a valid H-1B visa stamp for entry or reentry to the U.S. Therefore, following approval of the H-1B petition, an H-1B employee should be mindful of the fact that they will be required to apply for an H-1B visa stamp prior to returning to the U.S. the next time they travel internationally, absent certain limited exceptions, including trips of under 30 days to Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands (note individuals should vet any such travel with immigration counsel prior to making travel plans to ensure an exception applies in their case).  

I-9 REVERIFICATION MAY BE REQUIRED - Employers should also keep in mind that for current employees with an approved H-1B “Change of Status” petition, whose current status will expire on October 1, including all F-1 students working pursuant to cap-gap employment authorization, the individual’s employment authorization will need to re-verified on Form I-9.

ALWAYS ADVISE IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY OF ANY CHANGES TO H-1B EMPLOYMENT - Finally, employers and employees should be aware that certain changes to the terms of an H-1B visa holder’s employment could impact their continued eligibility for H-1B status and/or could necessitate the filing of an H-1B amendment.  Employers are therefore encouraged to speak to immigration counsel prior to making any changes to the terms of an H-1B visa holder’s employment to ensure compliance with these requirements.

D&S Reminds STEM OPT Students that Window to File 7-Month Extension Closes on Monday, August 8, 2016

This past March, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a new STEM OPT Rule providing for, among other things, an extended 24-month STEM OPT period, which is 7 months longer than the 17-month period available under the old rule.  

D&S reminds eligible students with existing 17-month STEM OPT Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) that the transitional period, during which such students can request an additional 7 months for STEM OPT, closes this coming Monday, August 8, 2016.

The transitional measure, which is available from May 10, 2016, through August 8, 2016, provides certain students with existing STEM OPT EADs a limited window in which to apply for an additional 7 months of OPT, effectively enabling them to benefit from a 24-month period of STEM OPT. To qualify for the additional 7-month extension, the student must satisfy the following requirements. 

  1. Students must have at least 150 calendar days remaining on their current STEM OPT EAD at the time they file their new I-765 Application for Employment Authorization requesting the additional 7 months of STEM OPT
  2. Students must meet the general requirements for 24-month STEM OPT including submission of a Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students to their DSO prior to receiving a new certified I-20 to become eligible for the 24-month STEM OPT extension
  3. Students must properly file their Form I-765 with applicable fees and supporting documents on or before August 8, 2016 and within 60 days of the date the DSO enters the recommendation for the 24-month STEM OPT extension into SEVIS

If the extension is approved, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will issue a new EAD with a validity period that starts the day following the expiration of the prior 17-month STEM OPT EAD.

DHS Releases Final STEM OPT Rule

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an advance draft of its final STEM OPT rule today, March 9, 2016, which will permit certain foreign students with degrees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields to extend their Optional Practical Training (OPT) period by 24 months.  The will go into effect on May 10, 2016,  just in time to meet the date on which the District Court’s May 10th vacatur of the prior rule will occur and avoid a gap between the regulations, which could have had a significant impact on STEM students and employers. DHS released its preview copy of the final rule this morning and the official version of the rule is set to be published in the Federal Register on Friday, March 11, 2016.

We have provided an outline of the major provisions of the new rule, which also contains additional requirements and obligations for STEM OPT students and employers.

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