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International students stranded without legal status or jobs due to USCIS processing delays

Many international students suffer from the long processing delays in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) facilities. Ji Hyun is an international student from South Korea who graduated in December from nursing school. Her dream is to become an intensive care unit nurse. Hyun received a job offer to work at an intensive care unit in a Georgia hospital. She applied for an Optional Practical Training (OPT), a 12-month program that allows F-1 visa students to work temporally in the United States in the field they studied. Hyun sent her application on November 4th. She did not receive a confirmation receipt until February 10th; this was too late because she lost her job. Her employer made it clear in the application that she needed a work authorization by February 8th.

It is not clear how many international students are being affected by the delays. In 2019, USCIS received 215,282 applications for OPT work authorizations. The ongoing delays make it challenging to recruit highly educated students and workers from abroad. The delays leave thousands of F-1 visa holders across the country frustrated because they have no income or health insurance while waiting for their applications to be processed to accept job offers. The processing delays threaten students' legal statuses. Application rejections could mean that students have little to no time to re-file.

Delays in OPT applications are affecting not only international students but also employers and the economy. A study done in 2018 by the Business Roundtable concluded that 443,000 jobs over a decade would be a loss if the OPT participation dropped by 60%; this includes 255,000 jobs held by native-born workers.

Students usually receive a receipt notice within four weeks of submitting their OPT application. USCIS blames the Covid restrictions, postal volume, and an increase in filing fees for the processing delays. Without a filing receipt, students are not allowed to renew their licenses.

President Biden promised during his campaign that he would undo the immigration policies that former President Trump created. The American Council on education, among other education associates, wrote a letter to Alejandro Mayorka, the new acting Secretary of Homeland Security, asking him to tell F-1 visa holders that the OPT program is not going away. The Biden administration is still working on a reform bill. We hope Biden strengthens the economy by making these educated workers a priority.

If you have any questions regarding how this may impact your case, please call Pikes Peak Immigration to schedule a consultation or a meeting.


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