Volume 7, Number 5
December 1, 2011
The Communiqué is an on-going series of messages to departments who sponsor international scholars at Boston University. With the Communiqué, we offer information that helps in the processing of scholar immigration-related documents and petitions. We hope you find the Communiqué a useful tool in working with the ISSO and in successfully hiring and sponsoring scholars from around the world. Past Communiqués are archived on our web site. Click here to go to the archive page.
F-1 STEM OPT and J-1 Student Intern Category Offer New Immigration Sponsorship Alternatives for BU Host Departments
Boston University ISSO has begun utilizing two new immigration sponsorship alternatives which expand the immigration services our office is able to offer BU host departments and prospective international employees and trainees. The F-1 STEM OPT authorization benefits certain recent graduates of U.S. colleges and universities, while the J-1 “Student Intern” category facilitates immigration sponsorship of students enrolled in degree programs abroad and wishing to complete an academic internship at Boston University.
1. F-1 STEM OPT – Optional Practical Training (OPT) in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)
Boston University is now able to employ or host persons who have been authorized for an extension of F-1 Optional Practical Training, in certain designated Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. This unique work authorization is commonly referred to as “F-1 STEM OPT.”
International students enrolled in a U.S. program of study commonly hold F-1 student immigration status. F-1 student status permits up to 12 months of U.S. work authorization in the student’s major field of study under Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization. Many students choose to request authorization to use their 12 months of OPT after they complete their academic program.
In addition to the 12-months of initial OPT work authorization, students in certain STEM major fields, may also qualify for a 17-month extension of OPT authorization (for a total of 29-months), provided:
- Their major field of study is on a list of designated STEM majors as determined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This list, which was last updated on 5/12/2011, includes majors in science, technology, engineering and math, listed by their Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) 2010 code.
- The employer is registered under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) E-Verify employee verification system.
Although the STEM OPT 17-month extension became available to F-1 students in April of 2008, Boston University only recently became eligible to hire employees with this authorization when the university registered with the federal E-Verify program.
Benefits of F-1 STEM OPT
For many BU employees in F-1 status who qualify for STEM OPT, this new alternative will be significantly faster, easier, and more flexible than the often costly and time-consuming process of obtaining Boston University immigration sponsorship for a change to J-1, H-1B or other appropriate immigration category.
As with most immigration matters, however, there is no one-size-fits-all immigration solution to facilitate U.S. work authorization and training. While the F-1 STEM OPT extension may be ideal for some, an alternate immigration strategy might be beneficial to others.
Benefits of F-1 STEM OPT include:
- Allows for full-time or part-time employment and for easy changes to title, salary or department, job duties
- Allows flexibility for paid employment or uncompensated training in the person’s field of study (provided the activity exceeds 20 hours per week)
- Employee/trainee can remain in the same immigration status to continue U.S. employment/training
- Employee/trainee retains ability to work for multiple employers or change employers immediately (provided the new/additional employer is also registered under the US DHS as an E-Verify employer)
- Employee/trainee can end employment/training to begin a new program of study with a simple F-1 transfer (no cost, no change of immigration status)
- F-1 STEM OPT authorization does not carry a Two-Year-Home Residence Requirement, which is often associated with J-1 scholar sponsorship
- No costly Premium Processing fees are required as might be associated with expedited H-1B sponsorship
Parties Involved in F-1 STEM OPT
There are several parties involved in supporting F-1 STEM OPT employment/training, including:
Employer/Training Site – The institution at which the employee/trainee will be employed or conduct uncompensated research. This institution must be registered with DHS under the E-Verify system.
F-1 OPT Employee/Trainee – An international student who has recently completed an academic program of study in the U.S. under F-1 immigration status and has been recommended by their sponsoring school for employment/training (Optional Practical Training) related to his/her major field of study. The student must have completed a major in a designated STEM field to qualify for the 17-month extension.
F-1 Sponsoring School – The school at which the employee/trainee completed his/her academic program. The sponsoring school must (1) recommend the F-1 STEM OPT authorization, and (2) continue to monitor and maintain F-1 immigration sponsorship for the employee/trainee during his/her months of STEM OPT authorization.
USCIS – The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (under U.S. Department of Homeland Security) must authorize the STEM OPT authorization after it has been recommended by the F-1 sponsoring school. It can take several months for the USCIS to authorize the STEM OPT. Once approved, the employee/ trainee will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to reflect his/her employment authorization.
ISSO Review of BU Department Request for F-1 STEM OPT
If a BU host department wishes to extend authorization for a current employee or trainee in F-1 status with a qualifying STEM major, then an F-1 STEM OPT request packet would need to be forwarded to the Scholar Team of the ISSO.
The F-1 STEM OPT packet includes:
- Form A
- Academic appointment letter or job offer
- Form B
- Copy of the scholar’s recent CV and all current immigration documents
The ISSO advisor will review the scholar’s immigration history to make certain a STEM extension is suitable, and will then issue a letter to the person’s F-1 sponsoring school to assist them in requesting the 17-month extension of STEM OPT. This letter, which contains the Boston University E-Verify number, is required in order for the BU employee/trainee to apply for an F-1 STEM OPT Extension.
Similar to the initial 12-month OPT authorization, the 17-month STEM OPT extension must be recommended by the F-1 sponsoring school. However, Boston University as the employer/training site assumes responsibility to communicate with the F-1 sponsoring school, including the requirement to report any employment termination within 48 hours. We rely on timely communication from the BU hiring department to meet this reporting requirement.
While the process of applying for F-1 STEM OPT can be much quicker than applying for change to another immigration status, BU host departments should note that if a F-1 STEM OPT extension is not possible in a particular employee’s case, then it may be necessary to come up with an alternate immigration sponsorship strategy which may take several months’ time.
Boston University host departments can request ISSO review of an F-1 STEM OPT extension request at any time after the F-1 OPT employment has started. It is recommended that an F-1 STEM OPT extension request be submitted to the ISSO no less than 6 months before the expiration of the initial OPT authorization period.
Once the employee/trainee is approved by the USCIS for the 17-month STEM OPT, they must then return to the ISSO to complete an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification (for paid employment) or to update ISSO records (for uncompensated training).
Further information on the steps required to support an F-1 STEM OPT extension can be found on the ISSO website.
2. J-1 “Student Intern” category
Boston University ISSO is approved by the U.S. Department of State to serve as a J-1 Exchange Visitor Program Sponsor. In this role, the ISSO provides J-1 immigration sponsorship to approximately 500 students and scholars in a number of J-1 exchange visitor categories including J-1 Research Scholar, J-1 Professor, J-1 Short-Term Scholar, and J-1 Specialist as well as in student categories including J-1 Student Degree, and J-1 Student Non-Degree.
The J-1 “Student Intern” classification is the newest J exchange visitor sponsorship category, which is intended specifically to benefit students registered in a college or university program abroad who wish to engage in an academic internship or research program in the U.S. towards their degree abroad.
At Boston University, this new category has had limited benefit as many exchange visitors enrolled in graduate programs abroad (Master’s, Ph.D. etc) already qualify for teaching or research appointments at BU and for sponsorship in the J-1 Research Scholar, Professor or Short-Term Scholar categories.
The J-1 Student Intern program primarily benefits foreign students enrolled in an undergraduate program abroad who may wish to engage in a paid or unpaid internship or academic research at Boston University before returning to their program of study. The J-1 Student Intern category facilitates entry to the U.S. for this purpose for a maximum of one year (12-months) time.
Requesting Sponsorship for a J-1 Student Intern
The paperwork required to request sponsorship in J-1 Student Intern category is unique.
While all students and scholars in a J-1 program must be issued a Form DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor status, J-1 exchange visitors in the Student Interns category must also be issued a Form DS-7002 Training/Internship Placement Plan, which details the student’s academic goals, the tasks and activities assigned, the knowledge and skills to be gained and the expected methods of evaluation. The BU host supervisor signs a contract committing adequate training, resources and supervision to the incoming student intern and assumes responsibility to provide a written evaluation of the student intern’s academic progress at the end of the internship as well as at the mid-point, for internships lasting more than six months.
In order to collect the additional information required for the DS-7002, the J-1 Student Intern request packet includes the standard Form A, Form B, CV and financial documents that would be required for any J-1 exchange visitor. In addition, the ISSO also requests a BU Host Department Certification and a Home Institution Certification.
While the J-1 Student Intern category provides an additional avenue for immigration sponsorship for visiting undergraduate student researchers, sponsorship in this category is significantly more cumbersome than other J-1 categories. BU Departments are advised to request sponsorship in the J-1 Research Scholar, Professor or Short-Term categories whenever possible.
Please refer to the ISSO website for further information about the J-1 Student Intern category and other J-1 sponsorship alternatives.
Your Scholar Services team,
Olivia K. Whitman
International Scholar Advisor
International Scholar Advisor—CharlesRiver Campus
M. Andrea Popa
Assistant Director for Scholar Services
Jeanne E. Kelley
International Students & Scholars Office Boston University
888 Commonwealth Avenue, 2nd Floor
Boston, MA 02215
Tel: (617) 353-3565
Fax: (617) 358-1170