Foreign Students Can Now File for Work Authorization Online

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer April 19, 2021
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​Foreign students with F-1 visas interested in applying for work authorization in connection with optional practical training (OPT) may now file their applications online, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced.

OPT is temporary employment directly related to an F-1 student's major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies and/or after completing their academic studies. Eligible F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT.

The option to file Form I-765 online is only available to F-1 students filing for OPT. If an applicant submits Form I-765 online to request work authorization for a different employment category, USCIS will deny the application and retain the fee.    

"USCIS remains committed to maximizing our online filing capabilities," said acting USCIS Director Tracy Renaud. "The I-765 online filing option allows eligible students to file forms online in a more user-friendly fashion and increases efficiencies for adjudicators," she said.

"Prior to this announcement, students were required to submit their immigration benefit applications on paper," said Richard Green, an attorney in the Irvine, Calif., office of CDF Labor Law. "USCIS staff would then process this paper application using computers to adjudicate the application and produce the employment authorization card. By utilizing the online filing system, students seeking OPT [employment authorization] cards skip the paper step and enter their data directly into USCIS' filing system."

Andrew Wilson, a partner at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman and co-leader of the firm's Immigration Practice in Buffalo, N.Y., said that processing of I-765 applications for initial OPT and the 24-month STEM OPT has been slow and, in some cases, applicants have had to stop working while waiting for an OPT approval. 

"Looking at the bigger picture, this is another step in the right direction for USCIS in modernizing its processes," Wilson said. "The Department of Labor does a great job with online processing of prevailing wage determinations, LCAs and PERM applications. USCIS's current online filing options are still pretty limited." 

USCIS has committed to continue to transition to paperless operations and will work to expand online filing for work authorization to additional categories, the agency said.

Online filing allows applicants to submit forms electronically, check the status of their case anytime from anywhere, and receive notices from USCIS online instead of waiting for them in the mail.

Eleven USCIS forms can now be filed online. Filers must first create a free USCIS online account, which allows them to submit forms, pay fees, track the status of their case, communicate with USCIS and respond to requests for evidence. The agency also continues to accept the latest paper version of these forms by mail.

Student Visa Numbers Fall

Students from China and India account for nearly three-fourths of the international students in the U.S. in 2020, according to government data. The latest reporting revealed that there was a steep drop in new student visas in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the number of international students applying for work authorization to participate in the OPT program also declined. Long OPT work-permit delays have been a chief concern for F-1 students attending U.S. universities.

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