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USCIS Offers 180-Day Work Authorization Extensions

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a temporary employment opportunity for F1 visa students in the U.S., allowing part-time or full-time work in their field of study.
  • Students can obtain OPT before or after completing academic studies, and USCIS is addressing delays by providing automatic extensions to mitigate the impact on international students.
  • Expedited processing is possible by filing on time, obtaining necessary endorsements, and using the correct USCIS lockbox address. Future developments may be impacted by the status of the entry ban and visa availability.

There have been a lot of delays when it comes to processing employment authorization for F1 students. This could have a bad effect on the nonimmigrant international students. As a result, USCIS came with a solution, respectively an extension for those in this category. Below, you will find out exactly what the work authorization extension forOPT students involves.

What Is OPT Work Authorization?

Students who are in the U.S. under an F1 visa have the opportunity to get Optional Practical Training (OPT), which is a temporary type of employment. It is related to the specific area of study of the student.

Students who are eligible for this can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before they complete their academic studies. They also have the opportunity to do it after completing their academic studies. Whichever the student will use, the period of completion will be deducted from the available period.

That being said, pre-completion OPT periods will be deducted from the available post-completion OPT ones.

You can participate in pre-completion OPT programs if you have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at a university, college, conservatory, or seminary for one full academic year. The institution/study should have been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 students. Also, under this program, you may work either part-time while school is in session, or full-time when school is not in session.

As for post-completion OPT programs, you can apply to participate in one once your studies are completed. If you are qualified for this OPT, you may work part-time or full-time.

People who obtained a degree in certain STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) have the chance to apply for a 24-month extension of the post-completion OPT employment. There are certain conditions for it, though.

For instance, you can apply for the extension if you are employed by an employer enrolled in and using E-Verify. You can also apply if you’re an F1 student who obtained a STEM degree that is included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List. Lastly, you can apply for an extension if you’re someone who got an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on your STEM degree.

How Is USCIS Addressing Its I-765 Backlog?

Some delays have been affecting the processing of employment authorization for F1 students who are eligible for optional practical training. USCIS is aware of this issue and is thus addressing the backlog.

Workers are putting in some extra hours to be able to deal with all the backlogs. They are distributing the workload in such a way that receipt notices are printed and mailed as soon as the lockbox facilities receive the EAD application for OPT. Thankfully, USCIS managed to make a lot of progress addressing the delays.

People only have to make sure to file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization based on STEM OPT, on time.

How Will This Impact F1 Visa International Students?

Now that USCIS took action to deal with the delays, a lot of international students will be saved from the trouble. Knowing that the delays may have a lot of negative impact on students on F1 visas, USCIS declared that they will offer extensions for the employment authorization.

There will be an automatic extension of 180 days for the employment authorization. They also made some accommodations in order to make sure students will not be negatively affected by this issue.

  • If you send your employment authorization application using any outdated lockbox address, it will still be accepted by USCIS. According to them, they would make sure to change the filing address instructions. The date when they did this was January 8, 2021. So, if you used the older address instead of a new one, you will not have your application rejected.
  • If you filed Form I-765 based on STEM OPT, then you will have your employment authorization automatically extended for 180 days. Keep in mind that this only applies as long as your post-completion OPT period expires while you still have a pending application.
  • Since every EAD application gets a stamp as soon as it arrives at the Lockbox, your received date will reflect the date it got at the Lockbox. If there are processing delays, they are not going to reflect on the received date, so there’s no need to worry about that.

Can OPT Students Expedite EAD Applications?

OPT students can expedite their EAD applications, but there are certain things to bear in mind when doing so. First things first, you will have to file your Form I-765 based on STEM OPT on time. So, that means it should be submitted before the expiration date.

Then, you should have the Form I-20 endorsed by the designated school official recommending a STEM extension. If you do this, it can help you a lot. It can establish identity and work authorization for purposes of documenting employment authorization.

Then, you have to make sure to get the correct lockbox address for USCIS. The institution worked on updating all lockbox addresses on January 8, 2021. This happened because some people might make mistakes and send their application to the wrong address. While this is not going to get you rejected, it’s still important to check the form instructions on the website of USCIS to avoid filing to the wrong address and avoid delays as a result. You should not have a hard time finding a current address, so look for one if you’re in a rush.

After you file your application, you must wait for the receipt notice. Usually, it takes up to 8 weeks to get a result. Do not contact USCIS about it in the meantime. After 8 weeks, you can contact USCIS and get information about your case status.

You can also create a USCIS online account to track the status of your case without having to call someone from USCIS. This online account will allow you to locate current processing times, as well as the individual case statuses.

What Happens Next?

Keep an eye on what’s going to happen in the following period. Last year, Donald Trump extended the entry ban for certain categories of immigrants from outside the U.S. The extension was available until March 31, 2021.

President Biden came out with an Executive Order to get rid of the green card ban. However, according to him, any proposals that haven’t gone into effect by January 20, 2021, should be stalled for 60 days. Despite what he said, it’s unclear whether the entry ban is going to be lifted or not.

Also, you should keep in mind that the unused visas might spillover to employment-based categories as well. The effect will only be accessible by fall 2021.

Read More

Conclusion

Students who experienced delays for their EAD don’t have to worry anymore – USCIS offered a 180-day work authorization extension. If your post-completion OPT period expires while you still have a pending application, then you’re eligible for this extension. Sending the application to an older lockbox will not get the application declined either because USCIS updated their lockbox information. However, it’s still better to use a current address to avoid delays.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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