A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Saturday, March 13, 2021

USCIS Relaxes Requirements for F-1/OPT I-765 EAD Applications


Processing delays on USCIS applications have been hitting F-1 students applying for OPT (Optional Practical Training) especially hard. 

Delays have exacerbated the usual issues OPT applicants deal with. USCIS generally does not factor processing time into the OPT approval period; if processing takes several months, much of that time cuts into the approved OPT period, leaving a fraction of the requested time. Hence, some I-765 may only be approved for very short periods of time.  Filing windows are also particularly tight, leaving little room for refiling in case of rejection. Add lengthy delays to all of this and it is no wonder OPT applicants are having a difficult time.

If you are a student experiencing issues with the above, know that USCIS has introduced flexibility measures that apply to applications received from October 1, 2020 to May 1, 2021. 

For these applications, the requirement that Post-Completion OPT end within 14 months of graduation is lifted so that the full period recommended by a student's DSO can be applied. The 14 months will be counted from the date of approval. Students who applied during the relevant period but were not granted the full requested time can file Form I-765 to requested a correction. Note that this seems to apply only to Post-Completion OPT.

USCIS is also addressing tight filing deadlines and rejection for both OPT and STEM OPT applications. A I-765 application may have been timely filed but was rejected as the filing window closed, leaving no option for refiling. If this happened to you and your rejected application was received from October 1, 2020 to May 1, 2021, you have until May 31, 2021 to refile. USCIS will treat the refiled application as if it were received on the date of the original. The I-20 also does not need to be updated for the refile if it was valid with the original. 

Also, leniency will start to be shown with missing or unacceptable signatures for OPT and STEM OPT I-765 applications. Instead of the usual rejection, USCIS will issue an RFE, sparing applicants from a potentially too-late refiling. 

If any of this applies to you, make sure to communicate with your DSO and take note of when your application was received. It is recommended that you consult an immigration attorney if you are unsure of what actions to take.

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