On September 27, 2019, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program issued policy guidance on the obligations of schools and students to document that there is a direct relationship between the student's major field of study and the work the student does on pre-completion OPT, standard post-completion OPT, and STEM OPT.

Read SEVP Policy Guidance: Practical Training-Determining a Direct Relationship Between Employment and a Student's Major Area of Study.

Summary

All practical training must relate to the student's "major." Practical training cannot be based on a minor. OPT employment that is not directly related to the major area of study would be considered a status violation. In SEVP Policy Guidance: Practical Training-Determining a Direct Relationship Between Employment and a Student's Major Area of Study (September 27, 2019), SEVP provided an expanded articulation of the obligations of students to establish, and DSOs to assess and document, the direct relationship between the student's major field of study and the work the student does on pre-completion OPT, standard post-completion OPT, and STEM OPT. Important aspects of the new guidance include:

  • Explanation. F-1 students are responsible for providing a written "description of how their practical training opportunity relates to their major area of study, which the DSO must review and retain." The student can provide this explanation to the DSO either through the SEVP Student Portal or offline. The description provided by the student should include:
    • "The student's job title, employer name, major area of study, whether full time or the average hours worked per week, and a brief explanation of how the job is directly related to the student's studies."
    • An explanation of the regular duties and "and the nexus between those duties and the degree described"
  • Assessment. The DSO must review the explanation provided by the student, and "must make a determination of whether there is a direct relationship between the job and the major area of study."
    • "The decision should be made on a case-by-case basis."
    • "The inquiry is whether there is a logical connection between the duties involved in the practical training opportunity and the student's major area of study."
    • "In the vast majority of cases, a DSO should be able to make that assessment based on the documentation provided by the student. If a DSO believes that the documentation does not provide a sufficient explanation, they should ask for additional evidence to better understand the relationship."
  • Recordkeeping. The school must keep the student's explanation, either in SEVIS or offline in the student's school record.
    • SEVP may request this information as part of a compliance review.
    • "If an explanation is not entered in SEVIS, a notation should be made in the free text field indicating that the DSO has received an explanation of the direct relationship and will maintain the record in the student's file."
  • Superseding Prior Guidance. The guidance notes that it "supersedes any information previously provided by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) on this matter."

Extracts from the guidance

DSOs should read the policy guidance in full, but here are several important extracts.

Extract 1

"Common Scenarios and Obligations

  1. Students on Pre-Completion OPT: The DSO is not required to report employer information directly in SEVIS for students engaging in Pre-Completion OPT. However, the DSO should collect and retain a written explanation from the student on how each OPT employment opportunity directly relates to their major area of study.
  2. Students on Post-Completion OPT: When making a recommendation for OPT, the DSO should inform the student of the responsibility to only engage in practical training opportunities that are directly related to the student's major area of study. The student is responsible for reporting their employment to the DSO and explaining, in writing, how the job relates to their major area of study so that the information can be reported in SEVIS or otherwise retained. This written explanation should be kept in the student's record if not entered in the free text field in SEVIS.
  3. Students on STEM OPT Extension: Prior to making a recommendation for a STEM OPT extension or when adding new STEM OPT employment, the DSO must collect a completed and signed Form I-983, "Training Plan for STEM OPT Students." The Form I-983 must be retained in the student's record.
  4. Students registered with the SEVP Student Portal: DSOs may direct students to report their OPT information via the Portal. However, this does not negate the DSO's recordkeeping and other responsibilities related to practical training. For that reason, it may be necessary to implement spot-check procedures to ensure that appropriate information is provided by the student. Students who fail to report or enter their information in the Portal in a timely manner or otherwise fail to comply with their reporting requirements may be deemed to be in violation of their nonimmigrant status."

Extract 2

"Documenting the Direct Relationship:

Nonimmigrant students are responsible for providing a description of how their practical training opportunity relates to their major area of study, which the DSO must review and retain. Preferably, this description would be entered in the free text section in SEVIS, described above. which is provided for the purpose of capturing this information. Students can enter the information by using the Portal or DSOs can enter the information directly in SEVIS. As an alternative to entering the information in SEVIS. the DSO must obtain an explanation of how the job relates to the student's major area of study and retain that explanation in the student's records. SEVP may request this information as part of a compliance review. If an explanation is not entered in SEVIS, a notation should be made in the free text field indicating that the DSO has received an explanation of the direct relationship and will maintain the record in the student's file.

The written explanation, maintained in SEVIS or otherwise, should include the student's job title, employer name, major area of study, whether full time or the average hours worked per week, and a brief explanation of how the job is directly related to the student's studies. The regular duties should be explained and the nexus between those duties and the degree described (see examples provided at the end of this document).

Assessing the Direct Relationship:

As described in the regulations (8 CFR 21-1.2(f)(11)(ii)), when a DSO recommends a student for OPT or STEM OPT, the school assumes additional responsibilities to monitor and update the student's SEVIS record. Consistent with those responsibilities, a DSO must make a determination of whether there is a direct relationship between the job and the major area of study. The decision should be made on a case-by-case basis. The inquiry is whether there is a logical connection between the duties involved in the practical training opportunity and the student's major area of study. In the vast majority of cases, a DSO should be able to make that assessment based on the documentation provided by the student. If a DSO believes that the documentation does not provide a sufficient explanation, they should ask for additional evidence to better understand the relationship."

Extract 3

"Sample Explanations of a Direct Relationship

  1. Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering: I work full time as an Electrical Engineer at ABC Corp., a government contractor. In my job, I analyze client requirements for electrical systems and provide them with cost estimates of such systems. My work requires understanding of electrical circuit theory, which I studied in-depth at the University of ABC.

  2. Bachelor's degree in Business: I work full time as a Loan Officer at a mortgage company, Happy Homes, where I meet with clients and evaluate, authorize and recommend approval of loan applications. On a daily basis, I use the knowledge I gained in my credit analysis, sales and marketing classes that I took as part of my major program of study.

  3. Master's degree in Music: I am working at a hospital playing the harp in patient rooms. I also conduct hands-on harp beginner workshops for long-term patients. On average, I work at the hospital 35 hours a week. My duties directly utilize the skills and knowledge I acquired from my coursework and degree in music therapy.

  4. PhD in Computer Science: I am employed as a Computer and Information Research Scientist at ABC Research Institute. I work as part of a team of scientists and engineers that designs experiments to test the operation of various software systems. My work builds on research in complex algorithms and machine learning. which I studied as part of my dissertation.

  5. Master's degree in Kinesiology: I am working 25 hours a week in a health food store as a consultant for Self-Made Inc., designing and teaching exercise classes that are incorporated into a customer's overall nutrition and exercise plan. My designs and customer instruction draw upon my studies and classwork in exercise therapy and physical reconditioning."

Extract 4

"SEVP recognizes that initiating the recommendation and approval process for OPT without requiring a job is a significant complication in determining whether there is a direct relation between an intended job and a student's course of study."