F-1 students who have been impacted by USCIS lockbox and service center delays may qualify for additional flexibility in their petition for Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization, according to an announcement from USCIS.
OPT is a coveted component of the F-1 visa program, allowing foreign students to work in the United States in their field of study for 12 months following graduation. OPT must take place within 14 months of graduation. Foreign students with STEM degrees may extend their OPT by an additional 24 months. In order to qualify for OPT, an individual must apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) by filing Form I-765 – the EAD application is filed up to 90 days before, or 60 days after, the end of their educational program. Due to prolonged processing time, Employment Authorization (EAD) applications have been delayed, pushing employment dates past the 14-month window allowed in the OPT program.
What has Changed
In its announcement, USCIS extends flexibility to applications filed after October 1, 2020 and before May 1, 2021 – for these applications, the 14-month window for OPT will begin once Form I-765 has been approved and will not be tied to the program completion date. For EAD applications that have been approved but have short-changed the petitioner of 12 months of OPT, the petitioner can refile the application.
Keep in Mind
USCIS’s decision to extend flexibilities will be welcome relief for students who hope to gain work experience in the United States after graduation, and employers, who use OPT programs to identify talent and maintain a robust workforce. Employers and foreign graduates will still have to contend with longer processing times due to COVID-19 closures, and employment cannot begin without the EAD approval.