Agency says pandemic, increase in filings, postal service volume and other “external factors” caused delays.
USCIS has announced flexibilities for international students on F-1 visas who have applied for Employment Authorization (EAD) under the Optional Practical Training program and have not received receipt notices from the agency.
The flexibilities apply only to applications received on or after October 1, 2020, through May 1, 2021, USCIS said on Friday.
As the American Bazaar reported in early February, thousands of F-1 holders have not received the receipt notices even after waiting for more than two months. F-1 visa holders can stay in the country for a maximum of 60 days after their graduation, unless they get their OPT, or they transition into another visa.
Students who file for OPT can remain in the country until they receive a decision from USCIS, even if the application is pending beyond the 60-day grace period.
USCIS said delays at certain lockboxes in issuing receipt notices OPT “are a result of COVID-19 restrictions, a dramatic increase in filings of certain benefit requests, postal service volume and delays, and other external factors.”
The agency said although it has made progress in addressing the problem, it is extending the flexibilities to help certain OPT applicants impacted by the delays. The following categories of OPT applicants will benefit from Friday’s announcement:
- F-1 students who could not have used their 12-month OPT —there is a provision that OPT must be completed with 14 months of graduation — because of the lockbox delays, will now be allowed to complete the full period.
- Applicants whose Form I-765 were rejected are unable to timely refile within the required application time frames because of the lockbox delays can now refile.
The OPT delays first started last October and USCIS had not acknowledged it till recently.
The delays affected both first-time OPT applicants, as well as those who are applying for the two-year STEM extension.
F-1 visa STEM students will be given OPT for 3 years (February 9, 2016)
The fading charm of the F-1 student visa in Trump era (August 26, 2019)
Judge allows additional arguments on why the OPT program is lawful (July 3, 2019)