USCIS started the Administrative Site Visit and Verification Program in July 2009 as an additional way to verify information in certain visa petitions. Under this program, Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) officers make visits to collect information as part of a compliance review. Most recently, F-1 STEM OPT trainees have been added to the list of those who are included in this program.
Types of petitions subject to site visits
- Religious worker petitions (before and after adjudication)
- H-1B petitions (after adjudication)
- L-1 petitions (after adjudication)
- F-1 STEM OPT Trainees
What is a compliance review?
A compliance review verifies whether petitioners and beneficiaries are following the immigration laws and regulations that are applicable in a particular case. This process includes researching information in government systems, reviewing public records and evidence accompany the petition, and interviewing the petitioner and beneficiary. It also includes conducting site visits.
Participating in a site visit is voluntary, but strongly encouraged
At any point, if the petitioner or beneficiary expresses an unwillingness to participate, the site inspector will terminate the visit. The inspector will complete the report using the data available and indicate that the site visit was terminated at the request of the petitioner or beneficiary. The compliance review will include a follow-up with the petitioner and beneficiary by phone, fax or email.
How site visits are chosen
FDNS conducts site visits on randomly selected petitioners after USCIS adjudicates their petitions, and on all religious worker petitioners before adjudication.
How employers should prepare for a potential site visit
Before a site visit: Employers should be prepared to present any information originally submitted with the petition. The site inspector may also request additional information relevant to the petition.
During the site visit: Employers should immediately provide any readily available documents and information that the site inspector requests.
After the site visit: Employers should provide all additional information requested in any follow-up communication from USCIS.
Why Does Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Conduct STEM OPT Site Visits?
Program rules authorize ICE to conduct site visits to verify that employers are complying with STEM OPT requirements and meeting the obligations of Form I-983 training plans. In general, ICE will use the visit to ensure that an organization is carrying out a structured and guided work-based learning experience consistent with the regulations and with the specific training plan completed and signed by the organization.
The inspection may include individual interviews with company personnel, a review and discussion of the foreign national’s training plan and its implementation, and a review of his or her skills and degree in relation to the STEM degree. ICE may also request to view F-1 trainee work spaces or receive a tour of the premises.
Consistent with the regulations, ICE may review whether the duties, hours and compensation of STEM OPT trainees are commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. workers in the company. In doing so, the agency could request that the inspected organization provide details and documentation on how it determines wages for employees. While this type of site visit should focus only on STEM OPT, and is not intended to be used for other workplace enforcement, if evidence of other immigration-related violations is found during the site visit, ICE may address the violation or refer it to the appropriate agency or ICE unit.
Will ICE Notify An Organization In Advance Of A STEM OPT Site Visit?
Typically yes. In general, ICE is required to provide 48 hours’ advance notice of a STEM OPT site visit. However, no notice is required where a complaint has been lodged with ICE, or where the visit is the result of evidence indicating noncompliance with STEM OPT program rules.
The SEVP division of ICE has been sending emails directly to the managers of F-1 STEM OPT trainees with an attached Notice of Site Visit. The SEVP communications contain:
• The date of the scheduled visit;
• A list of STEM OPT F-1 foreign nationals whose training has been selected for inspection;
• A request for a copy of each named F-1 trainee’s Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students; and
• A request for other documentation related to the organization’s STEM OPT training program, at ICE’s discretion.
How Should An Organization Prepare Its Personnel For Site Visits?
At each worksite where an F-1 STEM OPT foreign national is being trained, the organization should designate a point of contact, such as an HR or immigration manager, to receive ICE officers. Receptionists and security personnel should be instructed of the possibility of a site visit and whom to contact when an officer arrives. They should be instructed to request the officer’s business card, and advised that officers should not be permitted to tour the worksite or speak to employees before the designated company representative is notified.
STEM OPT trainees and their managers should also be advised about the possibility of an ICE inspection and what to expect during the visit.
Will An Organization Be Able To Correspond With ICE Before The Site Visit? Will It Be Able To Involve Immigration Counsel?
For a routine visit, an organization will likely be asked to submit the requested Form I-983 training plans and related documentation before the site visit. At that time, the organization may be able to obtain further details from ICE, including the specific time of day of the inspection, and its expected scope.
An organization may ask ICE for its immigration counsel to be present during the site visit either in person or by phone. In making the request, the organization should explain that having the company’s immigration counsel present or available by phone will help the employer respond fully and accurately to the officer’s questions and requests for information. Thus far, ICE has permitted attorney presence, but may not consistently do so.
Who Will Conduct The Visit From ICE?
Site visits have so far been conducted by officers from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) unit of ICE. More than one ICE officer may be present. When an officer appears at company premises, personnel should ask to see the officer’s identification and business card. If the designated individual has any concerns about the visitor’s credentials, he or she may call the telephone number on the business card to verify their identity. Personnel should note the officer’s name, title, and contact information for the company’s record of the site visit.
Which Employees In The Organization Should Be Made Available For The Visit? What If An Employee Is Unavailable On The Date Of The Visit?
ICE has thus far requested to speak directly with a company’s immigration manager, managers/supervisors of the selected STEM F-1 trainees, and with the signatory of their Form I-983 training plans. ICE may also ask to meet with the STEM F-1 trainees, though it may not always do so. However, the foreign nationals may be present during the inspection if they and the company so choose. If a company employee selected for an interview is not available on the scheduled date, the company should address the issue with ICE. The agency may request a follow-up phone call or other communication with the employee, or may determine it can complete the investigation with the available personnel.
Should A Company Representative Accompany The ICE Officer During The Site Visit? Should The Representative Take Notes?
Yes, a company representative should be present throughout the site visit. ICE may decline a company representative’s request to be present during individual ICE interviews with managers and other personnel, but the representative should remain available.
During the visit, the representative should take detailed notes, including the name, title and contact information of each officer; the names and titles of individuals the officer interviews; the questions asked during interviews; any company documents provided to the officer; the worksite areas visited by the officer; and any photographs taken by the officer. If company documents are provided to ICE, the company representative should be sure to list the documents provided and retain copies. If the officer takes photographs of the premises, the representative should ask for copies of them.
An Organization Has A Policy Against Allowing Unaffiliated Individuals To Tour Or Photograph Its Premises. If The Officer Asks To See Or Take Pictures Of The Worksite, Must We Cooperate?
It is recommended that employers comply with reasonable requests to examine and photograph the employer’s premises or work area. However, if the company has a strict policy against tours or photographs, it should explain that to the officer.
What Kinds Of Questions Can Be Expected From The ICE Officers?
Managers and supervisors should be prepared to answer questions on the following:
• The information provided in the trainee’s Form I-983;
• The nature of the trainee’s role in the organization;
• How the role relates to the trainee’s degree and academic program;
• Why the trainee is qualified for the role;
• What qualifications managers look for when hiring for similar positions;
• The nature of the manager’s supervision and training; and
• Whether the trainee is placed at a third-party work site.
If An F-1 STEM OPT Trainee Is Placed At A Third-Party Site, Could ICE Conduct A Visit At That Site?
Employers are permitted to place F-1s on STEM OPT at client and customer work sites, provided that all STEM OPT training obligations are met. The visit could take place at the third-party worksite. If the company has placed a STEM F-1 offsite, the company should communicate with its vendors and/or clients to discuss the possibility of an ICE visit.
In offsite placement scenarios, ICE officers are likely to ask questions about the employment relationship between the organization and the STEM F-1 trainee, in order to verify that the organization is supervising and training the foreign national in a manner consistent with STEM OPT program rules.
How Long Will The Site Visit Last?
The visit should generally last from 1 to 1.5 hours. The length of the entire ICE site visit will vary by how many foreign nationals are selected for the investigation, as well as how much company information (including, in some instances, requests to view work spaces or for a tour of the premises) is requested by ICE.
What Happens After A Site Visit Is Completed?
If as a result of the inspection the agency determines an employer must submit updated or corrected information, ICE will generally request that information in writing from the employer.
In some cases, if officers were not able to speak to everyone they deemed critical for the investigation, or obtain all of the sought information, they may engage in follow-up communication with the organization.
What Are The Penalties For Noncompliance With STEM OPT Rules?
The Form I-983 provides notice of some potential enforcement actions for STEM OPT noncompliance, including termination of the student’s STEM OPT employment authorization. Thus far, it is not clear what level of violation would trigger such action by ICE.