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OPT Work Authorization Delays Impact Foreign Students

The New York Times reports student visa holders are encountering obstacles with obtaining work authorization associated with Optional Practical Training (OPT), a vital and essential component of the F-1 visa for most, if not all, foreign national students. OPT work authorization allows F-1 students to work temporarily in fields that advance their studies for a period of up to 12 months generally following the completion of their academic studies in the United States.

OPT has long been viewed as a well-regulated and beneficial component of the F-1 student visa. OPT is monitored through the student’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record and must be approved by the Designated Student Officer (DSO) of a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school. Not only does the OPT give students valuable work experience, it helps companies identify the best and brightest candidates for post-education employment.

Under current OPT rules, an F-1 student cannot apply more than 90 days in advance of their graduation date. However, because of current processing times, which are at unprecedented levels for EAD cards, the processing of these applications is taking at least 150 days. As such, many students have a 60-day gap between graduation and the issuance of their OPT EAD card. The students are unable to work without the actual EAD card “in-hand”. Yet, employers have immediate needs to fill and are left with the difficult decision of holding the position open for an additional 60 days while waiting for the F-1 student to receive the EAD card (assuming that it comes within the normal 150-day period and not longer) or filling the role with a potentially less qualified candidate because the employer cannot wait. If the goal of the Trump Administration’s immigration reform is to prioritize immigration of highly skilled workers, allowing backlogs in OPT work authorization is counterintuitive and counterproductive.

The Times report highlights many of the challenges for DSOs and foreign students, issues confirmed by the institutions of higher education we represent and work with. The end result is decreasing enrollment of foreign students – unable to secure positions post-graduation because of long delays in OPT issuance, many of these students are opting to obtain their education in Canada or Australia where opportunities are more readily available. It is important for schools to be proactive in recruitment of foreign students, and for DSOs to be diligent in monitoring deadlines and requirements for their F-1 visa. Read more tips on recruiting foreign students in today’s immigration climate here. If you have questions about your SEVIS program, or becoming SEVIS certified please contact us for a complimentary consultation or download our SEVP Certification Guide.

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