Updates about Biometrics, Receipt Notices, OPT, and STEM OPT Extension Delays:
There have been significant delays in USCIS processing such as biometrics processing, receipt notice delays, including delays in all types of EAD extensions. We briefly cover updates about the limited services, and delays. We will cover OPT, STEM OPT extension delays, and things to watch out for while you are waiting for your extension to be approved, in detail.
According to USCIS Stakeholder Message:
“Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have experienced delays in scheduling or rescheduling application support center (ASC) appointments to collect biometrics. Current processing times are affected by several variables including demand and capacity at individual ASCs”.
Update on Safely Reopening ASCS
- USCIS temporarily suspended in-person services between March and June to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and ensure employee and applicant safety
- As a result, approximately 280,000 appointments were canceled
- USCIS began a phased reopening of our ASCs in July after they installed protective screens and incorporated proper social distancing measures across 132 sites
- Since reopening, there have been sporadic and temporary ASC closures for reasons such as local stay-at-home orders, COVID-19-related cleaning, and extreme weather
- From July to September, ASCs were operating at below 50 percent of pre-COVID levels
- By late October, USCIS increased ASC operations to approximately 65 percent of pre-COVID levels
Update on Current Situation
- USCIS is working to safely maximize appointment capacity at ASCs and is also reusing previously collected biometrics to conduct background and security checks when authorized by law
- Based on capacity limitations unique to each ASC, USCIS has not yet rescheduled all canceled appointments
- USCIS is scheduling approximately 10,400 appointments per day
- Approximately 1.3 million applications are awaiting biometrics appointments as of mid-December
- Applicants should continue to wait for an ASC appointment notice or a Form I-797, Notice of Action, from USCIS indicating that their previously collected biometrics may be reused
Update on Priority of ASC Appointments
- Biometrics appointments are scheduled based on the prioritization of benefit types, considering adjudication capacity and processing times
- Within a benefit type, USCIS generally schedules appointments on a first-in, first-out basis
- The wait time for appointments will vary geographically, based on capacity and varying demand at individual ASC locations
- USCIS is authorized to reuse biometrics under limited circumstances, and usually where we must verify an individual’s identity and the case is otherwise ready to adjudicate
- If USCIS will reuse biometrics for a pending application, they will mail a Form I-797 notice to the applicant stating that we will be reusing the applicant’s biometrics and that the applicant is not required to appear at an ASC
- However, not all applications meet the requirements for biometrics reuse
- Because of our COVID facility constraints, USCIS cannot process walk-ins for biometrics collection except for military applicants and their family members when the principal applicant is scheduled for an appointment
Before visiting any USCIS facility, check the USCIS Office Closings webpage for the current operating status
For more information about USCIS ASCs, visit our ASC information webpage
An Important Policy Update on Discretionary Authority and Applicability:
“While employment authorization for certain aliens is automatic or non-discretionary by virtue of their immigration status, other aliens must affirmatively apply for employment authorization and USCIS may grant employment authorization as a matter of discretion.”
The regulations outlined at 8 CFR 274a.12(c) specify categories of aliens who must apply for employment authorization and may be granted employment authorization as a matter of discretion; these aliens are referred to in this chapter as Category C applicants.
List of EAD Categories that are Subject to Discretionary Review
- F1 Visa – OPT, STEM OPT, Economic Hardship, M1 Visa
- H4 Visa
- DACA Holders
- Adjustment of Cases
- Dependents of Visa holders in A1, A2, E1, E2, G1, G3, G4, J2, NATO-1 through NATO-7
- Certain Asylum cases, Domestic Servants, TPS, S Visas, T2, T3, T4, T5, T6
More details about that list can be found here
We will continue to monitor F-1 Optional Practical Training processing times as approval timelines have been delayed as compared to previous years. These processing delays are affecting all OPT applications processed around the U.S, including 24 months extensions.
According to the MIT International Student Office:
“Past experience, and as we advised you during the F-1 Employment Information Sessions, OPT had been averaging 90-100 days. In the past two weeks, we have seen OPT applications approved anytime between 91-115 days since the date of filing, though we have some pending applications that are approaching more than 115 days”.
You can find additional resources about STEM OPT Extension here
Who is Eligible for OPT?
- The student has been a full-time student for one academic year in a SEVP-certified:
- The student is not studying English as a Second Language.
- The student’s proposed employment relates to the student’s major area of study. For more information see SEVP Policy Guidance: Practical Training – Determining a Direct Relationship between Employment and a Student’s Major Area of Study.
- The student has not used all optional practical training available at the current level of study
- The student has not been authorized for 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion optional practical training (OPT)
Eligibility for the STEM OPT Extension
- Have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of post-completion OPT;
- Have earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a school that is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency and is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)at the time you submit your STEM OPT extension application
Can I Use Previously Obtained STEM Degrees?
- If you are an F-1 student participating in a 12-month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree, you may be eligible to use a previous STEM degree from a U.S. institution of higher education to apply for a STEM OPT extension
- You must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions, and cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based on this previous degree
- The practical training opportunity also must be directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree
For example: If you are currently participating in OPT based on a master’s degree in business administration but you previously received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree as long as it is from an accredited U.S. college or university and the OPT employment opportunity is directly related to your bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
What About STEM Degrees I Might Obtain in the Future?
- If you enroll in a new academic program in the future and earn another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, you may be eligible for one additional 24-month STEM OPT extension.
- For example: If you receive a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree in engineering and you later earn a master’s degree in engineering, you may apply for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your master’s degree.
- Work for an employer who meets all the requirements listed below in the STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities section
- Submit the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, up to 90 days before your current OPT employment authorization expires, and within 60 days of the date your designated school official (DSO) enters the recommendation for OPT into your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record
Can I Work on My Expired EAD for OPT During my 24 Months Extension?
You may continue to work on your expired EAD for OPT up to 180 days while your 24-month extension petition is pending if you meet the following conditions:
- You are currently in a period of post-completion OPT.
- You properly and in a timely manner filed your application for the 24-month extension with USCIS
Unemployment During the OPT Period
You may be unemployed during your OPT period for a limited number of days
|If You received…
|You Maybe Unemployed for…
|For a total of…(during the OPT period)
|Initial post-completion OPT only
|Up to 90 days
|An additional 60 days
If you have any question or comments about H-1B registration, eligibility, delays in receipts, or have questions about the Green Card procedure in general, you can schedule a consultation with us: