Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training application is going digital. Source: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Good news for Optional Practical Training (OPT) applicants — you can now file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorisation online. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that this is now valid for Pre-Completion OPT, Post-Completion OPT, and 24-Month Extension for STEM OPT application. It is a welcome move after a lockbox issue with the form caused a significant delay and backlog in OPT approvals, which jeopardised applicants on the F-1 visa.

Back in February, USCIS clarified that the OPT delay can be traced to certain lockboxes, which are not issuing notices when they receive Form I-765 from students. It maintained that students need not worry about exceeding their OPT period while their application is being processed. Official guidelines state that anyone who has filed Form I-765 for OPT will automatically have their employment authorisation extended for 180 days if their permit expires.

An official release confirmed that only OPT applicants may file this form online. You may also check the status of your case online instead of waiting for them in the mail — congruent with the USCIS’s move towards paperless operation. The USCIS statement also reads: “If an applicant submits Form I-765 online to request employment authorisation on or after April 15, but is eligible for a different employment authorisation category, USCIS will deny the application and retain the fee.”

Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training applicants may go on to seek full-time work visas or green cards in the US. Source: Kena Betancur/AFP

Welcome update for Optional Practical Training applicants

Senior Official Performing the Duties of USCIS Director Tracy Renaud reiterated USCIS’s commitment to maximising online filing capabilities, saying, “The I-765 online filing option allows eligible students to file forms online in a more user-friendly fashion and increases efficiencies for adjudicators.”

SEVP 2020 data shows that there were 1.25 million active records of F-1 and M-1 students in the SEVIS. 74% of these international students came from China and India. In line with the 18% dip in enrolments last year, US universities also witnessed a 12% decline in international students obtaining Form I-765 for OPT participation.

USCIS has promised flexibility in light of pandemic complications: those who applied for OPT between Oct. 1, 2020, and May 1, 2021, may now commence their OPT programme from the date their application is approved. Previously, the OPT period would only begin at the end of their course. USCIS will also approve applications with “validity dates reflecting the same amount of time originally recommended by the designated school official from their school on the Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”

You can find Form I-765 on the official website; be sure to create a USCIS online account first to ease your application for the Optional Practical Training programme.