We are all losing our collective minds since the USCIS has updated its STEM OPT webpage to reflect an apparent change in the agency’s interpretation of the 2016 STEM optional practical training (OPT) rule for F-1 students. Please, stop and take a breath first!
Situation till date
The original OPT STEM regulations from 2016 do not specify whether the training and supervision can be conducted remotely by the employer while the employee is working offsite at a client location. Also, USCIS never specifically addressed this question. Not to mention, the form I-983 asks the employer to list both the company’s address and the worksite name and address, implying that STEM OPT students would be placed at third-party or other offsite locations.
What is new?
The USCIS has updated its STEM OPT web page to reflect a change in the its "interpretation" of the 2016 STEM optional practical training (OPT) rule for F-1 students. Now they interpret that the OPT STEM worker can only work at the employer's worksite, not at a client or third-party site. Their reasoning is that USCIS/ICE don't have the authority to visit third-party sites, and that distance learning/training is not sufficient.
What does it mean?
While they managed to whip up a frenzy with this website update, please note:
- They cannot just change how they interpret a regulation, after 2 years, by just updating a webpage!
- That is not the same as issuing a new regulation, or at least a formal memo
- The reasoning provided by the USCIS for this change doesn't really stand scrutiny. If remote training/mentoring is not OK for STEM OPTs, why is it ok for first year OPTs? And if the USCIS has a right to do site visits for H1B, why can't they visit OPT client sites?
- This policy change will definitely be challenged in federal court; in fact there are non-profit groups that are already collecting contributions to sue the USCIS.
- Bottom line, don't panic! We will find out more in the coming weeks, but stay put. There will always be a solution for every problem!
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