Today US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 15 students on F1 Visa OPT, who fraudulently used OPT program to stay in the country. It is part of an operation called “OPTical Illusion”. The operation was part of ICE enforcement that monitors F1 students for compliance and their status. SEVP and ICE monitors over one million nonimmigrant students in F and M students. In this article, we will look at the background and all the details of the ICE enforcement.
Background – ICE, F1 OPT Program, Compliance
In this section, we will cover all the background needed for you to understand the requirements of F1 OPT and compliance.
- F1 OPT Program : All the international students, who study in a degree program in the US on F1 visa, have a provision to get “practical experience in their field” called as “practical training”. DHS offers two programs called Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). CPT is used during the degree program and OPT is mostly used after the graduation. Most of the students who graduate apply for OPT to work and get some practical experience. They are supposed to work on OPT in a job that is in the same field as their degree. You can read all details at Difference between CPT vs OPT, STEM OPT, Day 1 CPT
- Unemployment Periods allowed on OPT : There are DHS rules in place that state that a student on OPT cannot be without a job for 90 days. For STEM OPT, it is 150 days. 90 days is the total unemployment days allowed and they are cumulative. Meaning, from the day OPT is approved, the student cannot accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment in their 12 months OPT period. For STEM OPT, the total cumulative unemployment days allowed during entire 24 months is 150 days. If you exceed those unemployment days, you are not in legal status and you need to leave the country. You will technically counted as out of status, if you exceed those limits.
- Compliance on F1 OPT : It is the F1 student’s responsibility to update the School’s Designated School Official (DSO) and in turn have the SEVIS system up to date with their current Job, employer details and what role they are working in. The SEVIS System is the main system that is used by DHS and ICE for enforcement. Earlier this year on August 28th, ICE Sent out a notice to all the DSOs informing that they need to make sure F1 OPT students have their employer information updated and be compliant. If they do not have it updated, they are technically counted as unemployed and will hit those 90 days or 150 days limits. Read SEVP ICE Broadcast Message – OPT employer update
Now that you have background, let’s dive into the details
What is “OPTical Illusion” Operation by ICE ? Arrests Info
The ICE operation called “OPTical Illusion” is part of their Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit. The operation was aimed at enforcing compliance of OPT program used by F1 students. It started back in January 2020. The focus of this operation was on OPT employers who were potentially involved in fraud.
The operation “OPTical Illusion“ goal was to analyze all the OPT employers, identify the ones that are not legitimate and then take further action. As part of that initial phase, ICE’s HSI unit first did an analysis and picked up about 168 leads in the initial analysis and those total 168 leads were sent to the HSI field officers of ICE.
The HSI field officers of ICE would go investigate the company, get in contact with students that were part of that company, they would speak to students on their OPT employment and then based on their investigation, they would take an action. Today’s arrests of 15 students are the outcome of such investigation handled by ICE’s HSI unit. The arrests took place in below locations and their nationalities.
- Arrested in Areas : Boston area, Washington, DC area, Houston area, Ft. Lauderdale in Florida area, Newark area in NJ, Nashville area in Tennessee, and in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg area in Pennsylvania
- Nationalities of Students : Total 11 Indian nationals, 2 Libyan nationals, 1 Senegalese and 1 Bangladeshi national.
ICE have also reported additional information on other students who are part of this investigation
- 22 students have left country
- 11 students have returned to another SEVP schools
- 29 students moved to new OPT employers
- 18 students are pending an immigration benefit with USCIS
- 7 students have obtained new valid status
- 18 students have moved to new Areas of responsibility (AORs)
- 41 students are yet to be located. They say that these 41 will be subjected to vetting, locating and enforcement.
This is an ongoing investigation and only Phase I.
USCIS revoking 700 OPT EADs, Started with 3,300 Pool
DHS started this OPT enforcement initiative by reviewing about 3,300 students and they contacted all of them and were able to verify that up to 2/3rd of the group to be in proper F1 Status and proper OPT usage. The remaining 1/3rd group, which accounts to 1,100 are being found in violation of the status. These students are in violation of status due to unemployment, not working in same field, involved in fraud, or exceeded unemployment days.
DHS found these 1,100 students on F1 to be technically out of status as they violated their F1 status terms(read out of status vs period of authorized stay). So, USCIS, that is part of DHS, is sending OPT EAD revocation notices to 700 students of the total 1,100 students. They are not sending any revocation notices to the remaining 400 students because they are towards the end of their OPT and they do not see need.
Only Phase I is complete, they will continue to enforce and remove students who are in violation.
You may watch the below YouTube Video for all details
DSOs in non-compliance at Schools to be removed.
The Designated School Officials (DSOs) in these schools, who have not done their job well with due diligence and did not comply with the program may be removed from their roles as DSO. It is partly DSO responsibility to effectively oversee the OPT employment and their willful ignorance in some of these cases will lead to their removal from DSO role.
How many F1 OPT Students could be Impacted ?
This is a very tricky situation for F1 students who have violate any of their terms and got any fake letters from fraudulent companies. To get an idea of the fake companies, we need to look at data. Below is a snapshot of the Top 20 companies for 2019 and 2018 that employed OPT students.
If you look at the companies list from ICE top 200 employers for 2019 and ICE top 200 employers for 2018, companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc. that are top tier companies are fine. But, in the top you see some unknown names like Integra Technologies LLC, AZTech Technologies, Tellon Trading, etc. are really not fortune 500 companies and many seem to be misusing the OPT program. All these companies and F1 OPT students who worked in those companies would be subject to scrutiny.
What do you think of the crackdown of the OPT fraud ? Your thoughts ?
Below is the actual YouTube press briefing video that was released on the operation.