STEM OPT-for Employers

F-1 students with degrees in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) may be eligible for a 24-month extension of their Post-Completion OPT work permission. On March 11, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published new expanded regulations, which take effect on May 10, 2016.

Employer Requirements

Employers of F-1 students on STEM OPT Extensions, or who wish to support an employee preparing an application for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension must meet the following requirements:

  1. Enrolled in E-Verify electronic eligibility verification system
  2. Must attest that:
  • They have sufficient resources and personnel available to provide appropriate training in connection with the specified opportunity.
  • The STEM OPT student will not replace a full-or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker.
  • The opportunity assists the student in attaining his or her training goals.
  • The terms and conditions of the STEM OPT opportunity, including duties, hours and compensation, will be commensurate with those provided to similarly situated U.S. workers.

Compensation, Duties and Hours of STEM OPT Employee

  • Must be commensurate with those provided to the employer’s similarly situated U.S. workers.
  • If employer has no more than two similarly situated U.S. workers, employer looks at other employers of similar size and industry in same geographic area.
    • Employers can use resources such as local associations and national wage surveys
  • STEM OPT workers must work a minimum of 20 hours per week.

Training Plan (I-983)

On the Form I-983, the employer must describe:

  • Student’s role with employer
  • Goals and Objectives of work-based learning
  • How employer will provide oversight
  • How employer will measure and assess student’s acquisition of new knowledge and skills.

Employers may use existing training programs as long as the existing training program or policy aligns with the goals of the STEM OPT student’s continued learning and all other regulatory requirements.

For hiring departments at Northwestern, the following information will be helpful to you when completing the I-983 (NOTE: This information is specific to Northwestern University only)

NU FEIN: 362167817
Full Time Employees: 9,823
NAICS Code: 611310
E-Verify Number: 297964

Evaluations

Students will provide his/her Designated School Official (DSO) from the university with a self-evaluation of his/her STEM OPT experience once per year, the employer is required to attest to its accuracy.

Reporting Requirements

Employer and student must report material changes to or deviations from the training plan. Material change includes, but is not limited to:

  • Change in the Employer Identification Number (EIN) resulting from corporate restructuring
  • Reduction in compensation or significant decrease in the hours per week

A method for reporting these material changes is currently being developed and will become available in summer 2016.

A student on a 24-month STEM OPT Extension is required to report:

  • To DHS: changes in name, address, and employer’s name and address
  • To DSO/School: every six months regarding validity of SEVIS information, including legal name, address, employer name and address, and the status of current employment.

Site Visits

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may conduct site visits.

  • Advance notice -48 hours unless triggered by a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance.
  • Site visits will be limited to checking information related to STEM OPT employment, including attestations made by the employer on the approved Training Plan.
  • Only federal employees, not contractors, will conduct site visits.
  • ICE will use phone and email to verify some information and ensure compliance –site visits not necessarily required for every investigation.

FAQs

As an employer, what do I have to do to be eligible to accept STEM OPT students?

As an employer, you must be enrolled in and remain in good standing with the E-Verify electronic eligibility verification program, as determined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to have international students apply for and be granted a 24-month STEM OPT extension.

Am I required to pay FICA taxes (payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare contributions)?

It depends. Under current tax laws, if your STEM OPT employee is exempt from payroll taxes, you save an amount equal to 6.2 percent of the STEM OPT participant’s salary up to the taxable wage base and an additional 1.45 percent of the total salary that would have been your contribution to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. STEM OPT participants generally are not subject to FICA taxes or Social Security and Medicare contributions until after the first five calendar years that they hold an F-1 nonimmigrant status, but many STEM OPT participants will already have accrued such physical presence and thus will be subject to FICA taxes.

Do I have to create a new Training Plan for a student who begins a STEM OPT extension?

You may use an existing training program or policy to meet certain Training Plan requirements, as long as the existing training program or policy aligns with the goals of the STEM OPT student’s continued learning and all other regulatory requirements. However, if using an existing Training Plan, it is important to ensure that it meets all applicable specifications and that it is customized for the individual STEM OPT participant’s qualifying degree and goals and objectives for learning.

What types of changes to my STEM OPT student’s Training Plan am I required to report to their DSO?

You are only required to report material changes to your student’s DSO. Material changes include significant changes, such as any change to your Employer Identification Number resulting from a corporate restructuring, a reduction in compensation that is not due to a reduction in hours worked or a significant reduction in hours per week that a STEM OPT student will be engaging in the practical training, including a decrease below 20 hours per week.

In the case of material changes, both you and your student must sign the modified version of the Training Plan and file the updated version with your student’s DSO as soon as possible.

Am I required to provide a mentor to my STEM OPT participant?

No. Employers are not required to provide a mentor to STEM OPT participants. However, each employer must describe on the Form I-983 how the STEM OPT participant will be supervised and evaluated.

Will I be notified before a site visit from DHS?

In most cases, DHS will provide 48 hours of notice to employers before a site visit. However, if a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance with the STEM OPT extension regulations is the reason for the site visit, DHS may conduct the visit without warning. DHS may also request information from you to determine the need for a site visit.

What if my STEM OPT student stops showing up for their training or is terminated?

If an employer terminates a student, you are required to notify the DSO within five business days. If a student does not show up for their training or leaves before the end of the authorized period of STEM OPT, you are required to notify the student’s DSO and must do so within five business days after the fifth consecutive business day that the student has not reported for their practical training without your consent (if applicable), or within five business days of the date you know that the student has left the practical training opportunity (whichever occurs earlier).