On January 9, 2020, the International Scholars Office (ISchO) wrote to international scholars at MIT who hold F-1 STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) status; faculty and senior researchers who may serve as their supervisors; and human resources administrators in departments, laboratories, and centers. The memos addressed potential employer verification visits by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, to whom ISchO reports, spoke with MIT News to clarify the intention of the memos and provide guidance.
Q: Why did ISchO write to the MIT community now?
A: Last year, DHS announced that it was likely to increase visits to employers of foreign nationals in F-1 STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) status. Since then, we have been developing guidance for those at MIT in that status, as well as their supervisors.
The memos ISchO sent last week were not prompted by a site visit by DHS, a notice of an imminent site visit, or a complaint. They were meant as a general reminder to postdocs, visitors, and other researchers, as well as their supervisors, of the steps to take in case DHS contacts them at any point in the future. A number of institutions have sent similar guidance to their communities. It was certainly not our intention to alarm the community, and we sincerely apologize for causing any undue concern.
DHS has stated several reasons why it might make a visit, including: to confirm that an employer has sufficient resources and supervisors to provide training for the F-1 STEM OPT employee; to confirm that the employee is engaged in that training, as described in the STEM OPT extension application; and possibly to request information about wages being paid to the foreign worker and similar U.S. workers.
Q: Does this affect students?
A: No. The DHS guidance refers only to foreign national employees in F-1 immigration status with approved STEM OPT extensions and their employers. DHS has made no reference to enrolled students; international students or scholars in any other immigration status; other foreign national employees; foreign nationals in their initial 12-month period of post-completion F-1 status; or DACA students.
Q: What should MIT community members in F-1 STEM OPT status do if DHS contacts them regarding STEM OPT extensions?
A: We are committed to protecting members of our international community, and urge anyone who receives outreach from DHS to contact the International Scholars Office and the Office of the General Counsel.
ISchO and the International Students Office (ISO) are working to organize Q&A sessions early in the spring semester, and will find ways to share details with our community in the weeks ahead. For now, the directors of ISchO and the ISO have been in touch with international scholars and students to provide clarification, and a Student Support Services (S3) dean who works closely with MIT’s DACA student community has contacted these students to offer reassurance.