A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Monday, October 21, 2019

DHS Memo reinforces that OPT jobs must be related to studies

Many foreign students participate in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). As part of the program, students are authorized to work under Optional Practical Training (OPT) in a field related to their studies.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently published a memo regarding the OPT program clarifying the employment process.

First and foremost, employment must match the student's field of study.  OPT employment must also be approved by the Designated School Official (DSO). However, students are not required to have a job offer before starting the process of gaining DSO approval and applying for the related Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This may seem counter-intuitive, but it prevents complications, e.g. students and employers waiting for approval to start work only to receive a denial. 

Some jobs may initially seem unrelated to the student's field. DHS gives the example of a musician working at a restaurant. The connection is clear once we learn that the job is to perform music in the restaurant.

The way DHS ensures that the OPT employment is related to the student's field is by requiring a brief written explanation from the student. It is to be provided to the SEVIS website by the student or through his/her DSO. The explanation must include: job title, employer name, major area of study, if the job is full-time or a specified average number of hours per week, and the explanation of the job's regular duties and how they relate to the student's studies.

The process is similar for post-completion OPT and the extension OPT for STEM students. The DSO has the role of approving OPT employment and informing the student to only take on jobs directly related to their studies.  STEM OPT applicants must provide their DSO with a completed and signed Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT students.

Failure to comply with these rules can render a student out of status and affect any future applications.

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