Tips on Completing Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students

Vastavam web: When filing for a STEM OPT extension, an international student must complete and submit a training plan for STEM OPT students (form I-983) to the academic institution’s designated school official (DSO). The form includes sections for both the student and the employer to complete and summarizes how the employment will supplement the student’s academic learning and how the employer will help the student achieve these learning goals.

Criteria for DSO to Recommend F-1 STEM OPT Extension:
The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field. The I-983 helps the DSO evaluate how appropriate the employment is for that student’s F-1 STEM program.

When reviewing and approving a training plan, a DSO is looking to confirm that the training plan:

explains how the training is directly related to the student’s qualifying STEM degree.
identifies goals for the STEM practical training opportunity, including specific knowledge, skills or techniques that will be imparted to the student, and explains how those goals will be achieved through the work-based learning opportunity with the employer.
describes a performance evaluation process.
describes methods of oversight and supervision.

Role of the DSO:
Although DSOs are often the main point of contact for international students regarding F-1 related immigration matters, they are not employees of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Rather, a DSO is an employee of the college or university and acts as the school’s representative on F-1 matters. DSOs and the schools they represent have to be compliant with federal immigration regulations in order to maintain accreditation.

Murthy Law Firm Observations of RFEs and Trends:
Since the current version of the STEM OPT regulation went into effect in 2016, the Murthy Law Firm has seen occasions where immigration officials reinterpret the regulations, impacting how DSOs deal with STEM OPT extensions and training plans. For example, in 2018, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began to issue requests for evidence (RFEs) and denials of status change requests in H1B petitions involving beneficiaries who were placed at third-party client locations while on STEM OPT. This was followed by an increase in reports of DSOs declining to recommend STEM OPT training plans in which the student was placed at a third-party work location.

More recently, there has been a spike in RFEs and denials from the USCIS based on assertions that F-1 students have engaged in OPT employment not directly related to their respective degrees. This is likely to cause DSOs to increase scrutiny of this issue when reviewing STEM OPT training plans.

Conclusion:
When completing the I-983 form, one must ensure that both the student and employer sections highlight how the employment directly relates to the student’s degree. Further, the goals, supervision plans, and performance evaluation plans contained in the I-983 should support the employment’s connection to the student’s degree program.

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