OPT update: Students contemplate taking legal action
International students worry their employment offers will be jeopardised due to the delay. Source: Hector Retamal/AFP

Following up with the Optional Practical Training processing delays, international students are considering taking matters in their own hands and contemplating legal action as they fear facing deportation. This unprecedented and prolonged delay is causing anxiety amongst applicants. Many students have reported having “severe chest pain, sleepless nights, depression” at the thought of their employment offers being jeopardised due to the delay. 

“No students actually want to take it to court, but I can understand given the seriousness of the matter. Their lives and dreams are on the line,” one student told The PIE News.

On Dec. 15, 2020, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Public Engagement Division confirmed the many reports of significant delays in the processing of receipt notices for applications were received: “The significant increase in filings, along with facility capacity restrictions necessary to protect the health and safety of the lockbox workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic, is causing significant delays for processing receipt notices. We continue to work to minimise delays. Once we process your submission, we will review your package.”

This unprecedented and prolonged delay is causing anxiety amongst applicants. Source: Vivek Prakash/AFP

On January 8, 2021, USCIS stated that the COVID-19 restrictions caused “an increase in filings, current postal service volume and other external factors” and as a domino effect, students may experience a delay of four to six weeks in receiving their receipt notice after properly filing an application or petition with a USCIS lockbox. “These delays will not affect the receipt date which is determined pursuant to 8 C.F.R.  103.2(a)(7). Delays may vary among form types and lockbox locations,” USCIS posted on their Lockbox Updates news alert.

In some cases, students may experience significant delays if a non-family based Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, or Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorisation is filed; based on eligibility categories described in 8 C.F.R. 274a.12(c)(3), relating to F-1 students. 

CIS Ombudsman, a service that assists individuals and employers in resolving case problems with USCIS, provided an update on Jan. 12, 2021 addressing the actions that will be taken by the CIS Ombudsman with regards to the delay. 

“In response to our attempts to work with USCIS to secure receipt notices, the agency has responded that it is unable to expedite their issuance. We will continue to try to assist individuals who have not received a Notice of Action (Form I-797C) 90 days after their application/petition was received at USCIS,” UCIS stated on their Lockbox Updates news alert

Applicants who are yet to receive a receipt notice within 60 days of filing should first contact USCIS. If they receive no reply within 30 days, students may submit a request for case assistance to the CIS Ombudsman. The service works hand-in-hand with USCIS to find solutions and mitigate the harm to applicants impacted by the delays.

A video was created on YouTube with a student saying, “my official employer is withdrawing my offer and I don’t have money to pay for my next rent”. Sarah Spreitzer, director, government relations at the American Council on Education said, “We are very concerned about the processing delays at USCIS for OPT. We know OPT is an important incentive for international students who choose to study in the US.”