Important Reminder on STEM OPT Reporting Requirements-Update on Calculation of Unlawful Presence

F-1 students working under a grant of STEM OPT must, along with their employers, be aware of important reporting requirements In order to maintain their legal F-1 status. Both the student and the employer must report and verify information to the student’s designated School official (DSO) during the course of the OPT validity period.

The student is required to confirm their record in SEVIS (the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) every six months with their DSO to confirm that the student’s record accurately reflects their current circumstance.

As part of this six-month reporting, STEM OPT students must confirm that their SEVIS information correctly identifies the following:

  • Legal name.
  • Residential or mailing address.
  • Employer name and address.
  • Status of current employment.

Please note that STEM OPT students must report a change in this information, including any loss of employment, within 10 days of the change.

STEM OPT students must also complete and submit to their DSO an annual self-evaluation describing the progress of the training experience.  The employer must also review the student’s annual self-evaluation and sign it to attest to its accuracy.  This should be completed and submitted to the DSO no later than 10 days beyond first 12 months of the STEM OPT period.  A final evaluation, also prepared by the student and signed by the employer must also be submitted to the DSO within 10 days of completion of the OPT training period.

If the OPT status terminates prior to the 24 month period, a final assessment must also be submitted to the DSO within 10 days of that early termination.  Not submitting a final evaluation would be a violation of the terms of the Form I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students,” and may jeopardize the student’s nonimmigrant status.

Employers must report the STEM OPT student’s termination of employment or departure to the DSO within five business days.

STEM OPT students must also report to their DSO any material changes to, or material deviations from, the student’s formal training plan.

Material changes or deviations from the original Form I-983 may include, but are not limited to:

  • Any change of the employer’s EIN.
  • Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked.
  • Any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity.
  • Changes to the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983.

So long as the STEM OPT student and employer meet the regulatory requirements and the modified Form I-983 meets the specified requirements, the student’s employment authorization will not cease based on a change to the plan.

When a STEM OPT student changes employers, the new employer must be enrolled in E-Verify before the student begins to work for pay. The student must also submit a new Form I-983 to their DSO within 10 days of starting the new practical training opportunity.  When a student begins a new practical training opportunity with a new employer less than 10 days after leaving the student’s prior employer, the student may fulfill all reporting obligations (loss of employment and new training plan) by submitting a new Form I-983.  Such changes should always be discussed by the student with their DSO before such changes take place.

STEM OPT students must report the termination of their practical training as listed on the I-983 within 10 days of the event.  Students who are granted a 24-month STEM OPT extension are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment beyond the initial post-completion OPT limit. This means that students who obtain a 24-month STEM OPT extension will receive, for a total of 150 days of allowable unemployment, 90 days during the initial period of post-completion OPT plus an additional 60 days during the extension period.

Effective August 9, 2018, USCIS implemented fundamental changes to its policy on how an immigration status violation referred to as “unlawful presence” might lead to a finding that an F, M, or J nonimmigrant should be subject to the 3- or 10-year reentry bar provisions of INA 212(a)(9)(B).

Under the new policy, F, M, or J nonimmigrants who failed to maintain nonimmigrant status prior to August 9, 2018 will begin to accrue unlawful presence on August 9, 2018, unless they already started to accrue unlawful presence earlier by virtue of (1) a DHS denial of an immigration benefit based on a finding of violation of status (2) the expiration of a “date certain” I-94 departure date or (3) an exclusion or removal order by an Immigration Judge.

For F, M, or J  nonimmigrants who fail to maintain status after August 9, 2018, USCIS will start counting days of unlawful presence the day after a status violation occurs, unless the student applies for reinstatement or the student or exchange visitor is covered by some other exception to the unlawful presence counting rules. Prior policy did not count unlawful presence until a USCIS official or Immigration Judge made a formal finding of a status violation.  Additional information is available on the Unlawful Presence and Bars to Admissibility page of the USCIS website.

IMPORTANT: Most non-US citizens must report a change of address to USCIS within 10 days of moving within the US or its territories, by filing Form AR-11 by mail or online. For additional information and instructions please go to https://www.uscis.gov/addresschange.