USCIS has announced several flexibility rules for F1 international students who have been affected by the delay in the processing of their OPT (Optional Practical Training) application - also called an I-765 application - as caused by the pandemic.
These latest accommodations are only applicable to I-765 applications filed by F1 international students that are received on or after Oct 1, 2020 through May 1, 2021.
Background on USCIS OPT Delays
Before the USCIS delay, the typical processing time for OPT applications was 3 - 4 months.
As a result of this standard USCIS OPT processing time, F1 students are usually advised to apply for their post -completion OPT EAD (Employment Authorization Document) cards early in the OPT application window.
It is not always a guarantee that an F1 student's OPT EAD application will be processed within 3 - 4 months.
For example, an F1 student might file an incomplete OPT application causing USCIS to issue a Request for Evidence (RFE).
When this happens the total processing time of the OPT application could be delayed significantly.
Nevertheless by applying early and ensuring that a complete OPT application packet is submitted, an F1 student could ensure that the OPT EAD card is received before the chosen OPT start date begins.
However, due to the delays what has happened to many F1 students is that the processing time of their OPT application is taking longer than the typical 3 - 4 months timeline.
This delay has caused serious immigration related issues for F1 international students applying for OPT and those transitioning from the post-completion OPT to the STEM OPT.
As a result of a lawsuit filed by organizations representing the interest of F1 international students, USCIS has had to propose accommodations to resolve the issues caused by the delays.
USCIS Flexibility Rule for OPT EADs with Shortened Duration of Work
The first accommodation is for F1 students who receive an approval of their OPT for less than the full amount of OPT time requested due to the delay.
This is the case for F1 students with timely filed OPT EAD application that are approved later than the requested start date on their OPT EAD cards.
These F1 students would be allowed to extend the end date of their OPT to regain the full time requested, to a maximum of 12 months of post-completion OPT.
Under normal circumstances, the end date of the F1-OPT period must fall within 14 months from the date of your program completion on the Form I-20.
But with these latest accommodations, this end date would now be calculated 14 months into the future from the date the OPT is approved by USCIS.
In order to extend the OPT EAD end date and regain any lost days of OPT, F1 students can do so by filing an application for a replacement EAD card with USCIS for FREE.
This replacement EAD application would be filed with the reason to correct an error caused by USCIS.
You can learn how to file an application for a replacement EAD in the video below.
USCIS Flexibility Rule for Refiling a Rejected OPT Application
The second USCIS flexibility rule for OPT applicants are to those who filed a timely I-765 application for their OPT or STEM OPT on or after Oct 1, 2020 through May 1st 2021 and received a rejection on their application but are unable to timely refile their application.
In this case USCIS will accept a refiled application if it is received by May 31, 2021.
F1 students refiling an application that was rejected in this time period do not need a new updated Form I-20 from their Designated School Official (DSO).
As long as the original I-765 application was received within 30 days of the DSO’s recommendation for an OPT or 60 days of the DSOs recommendation for STEM OPT, the refiled application would be accepted.
Proposed Rule for OPT Applications with Missing or Deficient Signatures
The third USCIS flexibility rule for OPT applicants in this period is that I-765 applications for OPT and STEM OPT containing missing or deficient signatures would not be rejected at the USCIS lockbox facilities.
Instead an RFE would be given, to provide F1 students the opportunity to correct the mistake.
To ensure you are submitting a water-tight post-completion OPT application to USCIS, get out our FREE Downloadable OPT application checklist!