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Mar 1, 2021

USCIS Extends Flexibilities to F-1 Students Filing for OPT

Emily M. Cohen

On February 26, 2021 USCIS announced flexibilities for certain F-1 students in the filing of Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (EAD) for Optional Practical Training (OPT). This is due to the substantial delays in issuing receipt notices at certain USCIS lockboxes where these applications are filed. These flexibilities only apply to I-765 forms received by USCIS on or after October 1, 2020 through May 1, 2021. They include the following:

14-MONTH OPT RELATED FLEXIBILITIES

F-1 students participating in up to 12 months of post completion OPT must complete their OPT within 14 months from the completion of their course of study. Due to delays in the filings, many F-1 students were not able to use a full 12 months of OPT within this required timeframe. USCIS will now allow the 14 month period required for completion of the OPT to commence from the date of the approval of the I-765 for applications for post completion OPT.

At a F-1 student’s request, USCIS will issue a corrected EAD card with a new end date if the original EAD issued did not include the full amount of OPT time requested due to the 14 month completion requirement.

REFILNG FOLLOWING REJECTION

Due to the lockbox delays, some F-1 students who filed their OPT I-765 applications on time but whose applications were later rejected were unable to refile within the required timeframes.

USCIS will accept a “late” refiled I-765 for OPT and STEM OPT and treat it as if filed on the original filing date as long as the original application was filed on time and received by UCIS on or after October 1, 2020 through May 1, 2021 and USCIS subsequently rejected it.

Refiled applications must be received by May 31, 2021 to be treated as though filed on the original date received.

MISSING OR DEFICIENT SIGNATURES

If a lockbox accepts a form I-765 for OPT or STEM OPT with a missing or deficient signature,  USCIS will issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) instead of just denying the application.

The delays with issuing receipts for OPT I-765 filings have caused a substantial amount of stress for F-1 students. USCIS’s flexibility with filings is a step in the right direction to make sure timely filed OPT applications are adjudicated for the full amount of time F-1 students are eligible to receive. Unfortunately, with the delay in adjudicating OPT applications, some students have not been able to commence employment as planned and employment opportunities have been lost. This has caused hardship not only to the students but to the employers who rely on international students to meet their human resource needs. It is the hope that I-765 OPT applications can again be adjudicated within a reasonable amount of time so both F-1 students and US employers can benefit from what has been a well-regulated and beneficial component of the F-1 student visa.

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Emily M. Cohen

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