United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced late last week it was extending certain flexibilities to foreign students impacted by delays in receiving receipt notices for the Form I-765 for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
USCIS said in a statement the delays at some lockboxes were a “result of COVID-19 restrictions, a dramatic increase in filings of certain benefit requests, postal service volume and delays, and other external factors.”
Below are some key details and information about the announcement from USCIS.
USCIS extended flexibilities only to F-1 students who filed (or will file) their Form I-765 for OPT from Oct. 1, 2020, through May 1, 2021.
USCIS said it is offering flexibility to assist certain applicants for OPT who have been negatively impacted by the delays. USCIS also indicated it had “made progress” in addressing the problem.
14-month OPT period
Typically, students on F-1 visas can participate in 12 months of OPT, which must be completed within 14 months of the end of their program of study. However, some students’ eligibility for OPT could have been shortened because of the delays at the lockboxes.
Therefore, USCIS “will allow the 14-month period to commence from the date of approval of the Form I-765 for applications for post-completion OPT.”
“Beginning (Feb. 26), USCIS will approve applications for post-completion OPT with validity dates reflecting the same amount of time originally recommended by the designated school official (DSO) from their school on the Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” USCIS wrote in the statement.
USCIS also said it will allow F-1 students to request a correction if their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) expires prior to the full amount of OPT time requested.
Refiling after receiving rejection notice
F-1 students are required to “timely” refile their Form I-765 for OPT if they receive a rejection notice. Because of the lockbox delays, USCIS is adjusting timeframes for refiling.
USCIS will accept refiled Form I-765s for OPT and STEM OPT if the originally rejected application was received between Oct. 1, 2020 and May 1, 2021, inclusive. The refiled applications must be received by May 31, 2021.
A refiled application should include a copy of the rejection notice “to facilitate review of the case.”
USCIS usually rejects at the lockbox applications with missing or defective signatures. But, because of the delays, the organization said it will “issue a Request for Evidence rather than deny the application, to give the applicant the opportunity to respond and provide the necessary signature or correct the deficiency.”
What is OPT and STEM OPT?
OPT may be authorized only in an occupation that is directly related to the student’s major area of study. Students in English language, elementary or secondary programs are ineligible for all types of practical training.
Generally, the total period of such authorization cannot exceed 12 months, with limited exception. Students contemplating such employment authorization prior to graduation should apply as soon as possible.
Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule on March 11, 2016 permitting certain F-1 students who meet specified requirements including an earned degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion Optional Practical Training.
STEM Optional Practical Training employers are required to fulfill reporting measures to assist in tracking of STEM OPT students and their practical training progress. Employer reporting requirements include the Form I-983, material changes to employment, evaluation on student progress and/or loss of employment.