OPT Backlogs Stressing International Students on F1 Visa – Processing Delays up by 46%

International students on F1 student visas in the US are facing the brunt of the huge processing backlogs at USCIS. While a majority of them are still awaiting an adjudication of their Employment Authorization petitions, the lot of them are giving up hope and returning to their home countries without being able to get the offered opportunity of Optional Practical Training (OPT) and experience on the field.

Previously, the Trump government had tried to impose a drastic penalty for accruing unlawful presence at a drop of a hat. The courts subsequently put an injunction on it and prevented yet another hurdle before the F1, M and J visa holders. Recently, there has been huge increase in the SEVIS fee for students on F1 visa as well. As students are offered Optional Practical Training after the completion of the coursework, they are allowed to apply only 90 days before the start date of the OPT and the approval used to come in within two months. Today, these students can’t expect an answer for up until five months which is an increased delay of 46%. This kind of delay has put a huge strain on everyone involved.

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Hundreds of applications are still awaiting an answer for when they can begin to work in the limited time they are allotted after doing a coursework in the US. However, thanks to the severe backlog at the USCIS tables right now, many are facing delayed visa applications that has caused financial distress for both applicants as well as for the organizations that had promised them jobs. Not being able to join in a timely manner, has left the students surviving on student loans stranded. A lot of these companies are even rescinding their job offers now that most of them can’t join.

A recent data released by educational institutions shows a decline in international enrollments in the past couple of years. This has a major impact on the financial profits of these institutions since a majority of their funds come from international tuition fees. This decline in student enrollment has also resulted in a negative impact on foreign talent recruitment and retention which in turn, reflects how many prestigious companies come in campus for campus placements.

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Universities, in an attempt to mitigate such F1 barriers presented before the international student community, are announcing courses that will allow the university, rather than the federal government, to approve off-campus employment for international students over the summer. But these temporary solutions are just a stop gap arrangement and USCIS will have to step up with their solutions and fix it before it become an issue as big as the 150-year old lock-jam with permanent residency applicants in the US today.