The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have provided a pathway for foreign students in the U.S. to apply for work permits. They announced on their website on 12th April 2021 that F-1 students who are seeking STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) can now apply for Form- I-765 online. The move was initiated to make it easier for foreign students to apply for the form, and to make the services more accessible for all.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that applies to F-1 students and their major area of study. Students who are eligible for the employment, can apply for around 12 months of OPT employment authorization before and/ or after completing their academic course study (pre-completion and post-completion). All periods of pre-completion would be deducted from the available post-completion OPT period. Under certain circumstances, students from the STEM field can apply for a STEM OPT extension period of 24 months for their post-completion OPT.
F-1 students may file for Form I-765, which allows them to request employment authorization and to procure the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). F-1 students seeking OPT in a position that is directly related to their major area of study can apply for it under the following categories:
• Pre-Completion OPT
• Post-Completion OPT
• 24-Month Extension for STEM Students
• Offered an Off-Campus Employment Sponsored by a Qualifying International Organization
• Seeking Off-Campus Employment Due to Severe Economic Hardships
According to the USCIS, students applying for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) OPT can apply for the Form I-765 if they file under the following conditions:
• a pre-completion OPT
• a post-completion OPT
• a 24-month STEM extension of an OPT
Previously, the facility to file Form I-765 was only available offline. It was only accessible for F-1 students residing in the U.S. for their studies earlier. Having the option to file the form online, grants the students the chance to check their status at any given time. They can also receive notices from the USCIS online instead of waiting on their mails.
Students should keep in mind that filing the form online doesn’t ensure quicker processing of their petition. USCIS strives to provide an efficient process of filing Form I-765, irrespective of the paper or electronic formats. According to Tracy Renaud, the senior official performing the USCIS Director’s duties, “The I-765 online filing option allows eligible students to file forms online in a more user-friendly fashion and increases efficiencies for adjudicators.”
F-1 students can only file the form online if they’re seeking OPT. For applicants seeking employment authorization under the category, even if they are eligible for different employment authorization categories, the USCIS will deny the applications if they’re submitted on or after April 15, 2021. USCIS plans on expanding online filing for Form I-765 for other categories in the future.
To file Form I-765 online, F-1 students can create an account on myaccount.uscis.gov that allows them to submit their forms, pay the fee, track the status of their case, communicate with USCIS, and respond to Request for Evidence (RFE), among other things. Individuals seeking to fill the form offline can opt to send the latest versions of these forms by mail.