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USCIS Flexibilities for OPT Applications

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced temporary flexibilities as a response to recent delays in OPT processing for F-1 international students applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT). These flexibilities will only apply to OPT applications received from October 1, 2020, through October 31, 2021. The flexibilities include:

  • 120-day filing update: For Post-completion OPT applications received by USCIS through October 31, 2021, applicants may file up to 120 days before the program completion date, instead of the normal 90 days before. However, this flexibility was recently announced by USCIS and could pose a risk to the OPT application processing. Please discuss this option with an ISSS Advisor.
  • 14-month OPT Period Flexibilities: Typically, F-1 international students must complete their Post-completion OPT within 14 months of their program completion date which can cause some students to lose OPT time. However, due to unanticipated lockbox delays, USCIS will now give F-1 international students the ability to complete their full period of requested Post-completion OPT, usually 12 months, even if the OPT start date is outside of usual 14-month window. With this flexibility, the 14-month period will now commence from the date of approval of the Post-completion OPT application.
  • Refiling Following Rejection: USCIS will accept refiled Post-completion OPT and STEM OPT applications if (1) the original application was received on or after October 1, 2020, through October 31, 2021, and (2) the original application was rejected. USCIS acknowledges that some F-1 international students were not notified of rejections in a timely manner due to lockbox delays. Please work with ISSS to refile.

    Refiled applications must be received by November 30, 2021. 

You may find more information about these flexibilities here. Please contact isssemployment@american.edu if you have any questions.

USCIS Delayed Receipt Notices

ISSS is aware of significant delays in receipt notice issuance by USCIS from the Dallas Lockbox. In a January 2021 message, USCIS stated: 

"As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, an increase in filings, current postal service volume and other external factors, you may experience a delay of four to six weeks in receiving your receipt notice after properly filing an application or petition with a USCIS lockbox. These delays will not affect the receipt date which is determined pursuant to 8 C.F.R. 103.2(a)(7)."

"The USCIS lockbox workforce is working extra hours and redistributing its workload in order to minimize delays. Once we open and process your application, we print and mail the receipt notice. We do not anticipate any receipting delays that would result in a payment that is past its validity date."


Please review the below tips for assistance and reach out to ISSS at isssemployment@american.edu with any additional questions. 

Currently, USCIS recommends waiting eight weeks after your OPT application was delivered before contacting them to inquire about your case status. 

  1. Keep Track of Shipping Information
    Please ensure that you have your shipping information readily available including the tracking number, the address the application was mailed to, and when it was received in case any questions arise. Do not lose this information. 
  2. Call USCIS at 1-800-375-5283
    We recommend calling USCIS at 1-800-375-5283 to find out if they have more information about your OPT application. Some USCIS representatives may be able to file a service request on your behalf. If this is possible, they will provide a reference number for you to follow up on the case. 
  3. Email the USCIS Lockbox Facility
    You may email lockboxsupport@uscis.dhs.gov for assistance. When emailing, ISSS recommends providing your full name and SEVIS ID number, so it is easier to identify you and find your case.
  4. Contact your U.S. Representative in Congress
    You may contact your U.S. Representative in Congress for assistance in retrieving your receipt number. You can find your U.S. Representative here.
  5. Submit a CIS Ombudsman Case Assistance Request
    If you have (1) not received a receipt notice 60 days after your application was received by USCIS and you contact USCIS but they do not respond within 30 days or (2) not received a receipt notice 90 days after your application was received by USCIS, then you may file a case assistance request with CIS Ombudsman. CIS Ombudsman is an independent agency within the Department of Homeland Security that assists with delayed cases with USCIS. For more information on this option, please email isssemployment@american.edu

For general information on STEM OPT Extension, please review the ISSS website and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's STEM OPT Hub

  1. STEM OPT employment authorization is a 24-month extension of the standard Post-completion OPT. This authorization begins the day after the expiration of the standard Post-completion OPT employment authorization, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved. Review the Code of Federal Regulation [8 CFR 214.2(f)(11)(iii)(A)] here
  2. If the F-1 student properly files a STEM OPT Extension application with USCIS, they may continue employment with the STEM OPT employer indicated on Form I-983 for up to 180 days after the expiration of the Post-completion OPT. Review the Code of Federal Regulation [8 CFR 274a.12(b)(6)(iv)] here
    1. If there are additional employer questions about the validity of the 180-day period after the expiration of the Post-completion OPT, please visit  USCIS Form M-274 Handbook for Employers  or USCIS I-9 Q&A