Under the new rules that went in effect on May 10, 2016, all students seeking STEM extensions for additional OPT time must have a training plan that is developed by them and their employer. Below are some important points to keep in mind about the new training plan requirement
1. Plan is Collaborative in Nature
First, employers and students must develop the plan together. It is a collaborative process that, as stated below, must take into account the students education, and how the employer can help enhance that education through training and working.
However, that being said, there are certain parts that just the employer needs to complete and certain parts that just the student needs to complete.
2. Intent of the Plan
The intent of the plan is to show how the program the employer has developed for the student will help he student “achieve” their objectives for work-based learning. Basically showing how the work is related to the STEM major of the student and how it will help them get real world experience in that area. Each plan will be different as it is based on the Student’s major and future plans as well as by the employer’s business and the position that the student will be placed in.
It is important to also note that one of the attestations made by the employer and student is that the training opportunity is directly related to the STEM degree that qualifies the student for the OPT extension.
3. Progress Evaluations
There must be a mechanism in place to evaluate the progress of the student in meeting the goals of the training plan. The student prepares a self-assessment and the employer must sign off on this assessment. The assessment must then be given to the DSO within the applicable timelines (10 days of the deadline). An evaluation must be done at the 12 month mark in the training and the 24 month mark of the training.
Part of the training plan (and the attestations made by the employer) includes having a person designated as supervisor/trainer for the student. Most likely it would be this person who would sign off on the plan as they can best testify to the fact that the student has been meeting the goals of the plan.
4. Changes to the Training Program
Part of the application process requires the employer and student to affirm under oath that they will alert the DSO to any material change in the training plan or material deviation from the training plan as soon as possible. What would this include? Changing the position or duties of the trainee most likely would fall within this definition as would changes to compensation, and changes in the employer or employer structure. There are certainly other changes that would be considered material (as well as deviations) in general this may be an area in which it is better to inform the DSO of a chance rather than trying to explain after the fact why you feel it was not a material change.
The training plan is an important piece of the OPT extension. While there has been no announcement as of yet I am sure that USCIS will start enforcement actions around this requirement. Perhaps they will send out officers to review the plan, visit the work site and ensure the student is doing what is required and the correct resources have been allocated. It behoves employers and students to ensure that the training plans they develop meet the requirements of the law and regulations. Please let us know if we can provide any assistance in that regard.
Please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.