USCIS Flexibility Rule for F-1 OPT Applicants Extended

Following a US court ruling, USCIS has confirmed it is extending certain flexibilities for eligible F-1 OPT students.

A legal challenge was brought in response to the negative impact of agency delays in processing Form I-765, Employment Authorization Document (EAD) applications received from F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Initially, relaxed rules were applied to filings by F-1 students seeking OPT filing Form I-765 work authorization received by May 1, 2021. A court order now means USCIS is extending flexibilities for applications received between October 1, 2020, and October 31, 2021. As a result of the extended flexibility, F-1 students with applications received between October 1, 2020, and October 31, 2021, are permitted to complete their 12-month practical training within a period of 14 months starting from the date of their approval and Form I-765, as opposed to the date 14 months from their F-1 program completion.

Accommodations also apply to F-1 students who filed their Form I-765 in time and between October 1, 2020, and October 31, 2021, but had their applications rejected due to the lengthy USCIS delays. They can now re-file by November 30, 2021.

The court order also introduces a new accommodation for applications received through October 31, 2021, which can now be filed up to 120 days before the F-1 program end date, extended from 90 days under the standard rules.

The extended flexibilities aim to ensure students receive the full 12-months of training and to reduce incorrect rejections resulting from COVID-19 related delays. F-1 students must, however, submit their full and complete OPT employment authorization applications on time.

F-1 OPT flexibilities relating to F-1 OPT applications received between October 1, 2020, and October 31, 2021, include:

  • Revised OPT period: F-1 students can complete their post-completion 12-month OPT period within 14 months of their EAD approval date. Applicants who were issued OPT approval for less than the full entitlement of time can request a correction from USCIS.
  • Post-rejection filing: Rejected F-1 OPT and STEM OPT applications that were filed on time may be refiled for adjudication and treated as filed on the original date, provided they are received by November 30, 2021, to be treated.
  • RFEs: F-1 OPT applications received during the relevant timeframe with missing or deficient signatures will be processed under a request for further evidence (RFE) rather than being denied.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.