U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is extending certain flexibilities to F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) who file Form I-765 work authorization applications between October 1, 2020 and May 1, 2021, inclusive. The accommodations come in response to significant delays in the issuance of receipt notices for F-1 EAD applications, which in some instances, have led to shortened or loss of OPT periods and improper rejections. USCIS has acknowledged the receipt delays and cites COVID-19 public health measures, an increase in filings and postal delays as reasons for the development.
USCIS will apply the following relaxed policies to F-1 OPT applications received between October 1, 2020 and May 1, 2021 (inclusive):
- 14-month OPT period: F-1 students will be permitted to complete their post-completion 12-month OPT period within 14 months of their EAD approval date, rather than within 14 months of their F-1 program end date under the standard rules. Those who receive an OPT approval for less than the full amount of time they are entitled to under the relaxed policy may request a correction from USCIS.
- Refiling after rejection: Applicants whose timely filed F-1 OPT and STEM OPT applications were rejected after the timeframe to timely re-submit will be permitted to refile their applications. These applications must be received by May 31, 2021 in order to be treated as filed on the original date.
- RFE for missing or deficient signature: USCIS will issue a request for evidence instead of denying F-1 OPT applications that contain missing or deficient signatures if they were received by the agency during the relevant timeframe. However, the USCIS policy permitting rejection of applications with missing or deficient signatures remains in place, so applications should be checked for sufficient signatures prior to filing.
What it means
As a result of the new USCIS measures, F-1 students applying for OPT-based EADs between October 1, 2020 and May 1, 2021 should receive a full 12 months of work authorization and will have recourse from improperly rejected Form I-765 applications. Applicants are reminded that the accommodations do not change the requirements for F-1 students to submit timely and properly completed EAD applications.