Numerous sources are now reporting that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has started to visit and inspect the worksites of foreign nationals with employment authorization under STEM OPT.
STEM OPT is a program that provides foreign nationals who graduated from an American university with a degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field an additional two years of employment authorization under the OPT (optional practical training) program. STEM OPT is popular both with workers and employers, as it does not require an employer to file a petition (as they would have to in order to hire someone as an H-1B or O-1A employee) and allows workers the ability to change employers. Employers who hire workers on STEM OPT are required to develop and document a comprehensive training program—including evaluations and milestones—for the STEM OPT worker. While ICE has always had the authority to conduct site inspections since 2016, this appears to be the first time they have exercised that authority at a very significant scale.
During a site inspection, ICE officers are most likely to be interested in reviewing a STEM OPT worker’s training program and ensuring that the program is being implemented correctly. An ICE officer may also ask to speak to a STEM OPT worker’s supervisor or with people responsible for HR or immigration; an ICE officer may also ask to see the worksite and the STEM OPT worker’s workspace. Employers with STEM OPT workers can best prepare for these inspections by making sure that their training plans for STEM OPT workers are up to date and in compliance with any applicable regulations; employers should also make sure that all necessary staff members, such as the STEM OPT employee’s supervisor, are aware of the details of the STEM OPT employee’s training program.