International students turn to Twitter amidst OPT delay

International students whose Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorisation are set to expire soon have taken the issue to social media using the hashtag #f1optlockboxdelayon Twitter. 

Following this, the official Twitter account of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) confirmed that there have been delays in processing receipt notices due to ongoing coronavirus-related factors. USCIS tweeted, “As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors such as an increase in filings and current postal service volume, USCIS is experiencing delays in issuing receipt notices for some applications and petitions properly filed at a USCIS lockbox facility,” USCIS tweeted.

“lt has been 8 weeks for me and l still don’t have a receipt like many others who sent to TX lockbox. Please help us! Please process early November cases. We will end up losing our status. #f1optlockboxdelay,” replied user @emelsenkilic.

OPT work authorisation allows F-1 students to work temporarily in fields that advance their studies for a period of up to 12 months generally following the completion of their academic studies in an American university. Those who have received a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) may be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension. They must apply before the end date of their Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which students receive once their OPT is approved. 

Once a student’s OPT expires, they have a 60-day grace period to leave the US, change their status, or transfer their F-1 visa status to a new school or programme. If they remain in the US — without a timely filed Change of Status — this will be considered as an unlawful presence. 

Students are frustrated about OPT delays as they might miss out on work opportunities. Source: Photo Paul ELLISAFP

One group of international students has begun a petition regarding problems at the Dallas Lockbox in Texas. “The current wait time for a receipt has already surpassed the filing deadline for many of us,” they wrote. 

“Thousands of scholars and researchers are in danger of losing their legal status due to this unprecedented delay,” according to the petition. “As embassies are mostly closed worldwide, there is already a shortage of new students coming to the US. If this delay continues, it will force the remaining talents to leave the US and potentially cause a serious shortage of much required talents in the near future to continue the progress of the US.”

In summer of 2019, delays in processing OPT work permits led to international students missing out on work opportunities. “By providing term employment to highly skilled recent graduates, OPT ensures that this talent pool grows the American economy, providing benefits to all workers in the US,” Paul Hughes of McDermott Will & Emery told Forbes. “If these employment opportunities were foreclosed, this talent would instead move overseas, damaging American economic competitiveness.”

Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power in Foreign Affairs said, “American universities have a special place in the global imagination, and lowering the visa hurdles for study in the US while creating better, more accessible pathways for international students to work in the United States after graduation can pay both short- and long-term dividends in expanding US influence.”