Work visas could be delayed: Int’l students urged to apply now


Sharmila Kuthunur

This story will be updated periodically. Last updated: July 6

At least one university is urging graduating international students to file for their work visa before Aug. 3 because the government agency handling those applications, the USCIS, is potentially furloughing over 13,000 staff members, which could result in significant delays in processing applications.

In an email sent out to current Northeastern University students, the Office of Global Services has encouraged students graduating in Summer 2020 who are planning to apply for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (Post-OPT), and to those applying for a STEM extension of their Post-OPT, to file their applications prior to Aug. 3.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency responsible for processing work visas for international students among other services, announced that by Aug. 3, 2020, it will have furloughed more than 13,000 staff members. It is unclear how long the furloughs will last.

“The majority of USCIS operations rely on fees paid by applicants and petitioners, not appropriated or taxpayer funds. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS has seen a 50% drop in receipts and incoming fees starting in March and estimates that application and petition receipts will stay well below plan through the end of Fiscal Year 2020,” read a statement from USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow. The agency has asked for emergency funding from Congress.

The announcement is a concern for international students who have already applied and are waiting for a decision, but even more so for international students who are graduating this summer. International students who arrive in the United States to study do so on F1, J1, or M1 student visas. These visas have firm expiration dates, and are valid as long as a student is enrolled in an academic program. Students who wish to work in the U.S. after graduation need to apply for Post-OPT, which the USCIS will process and approve, commonly within 90 days.

In 2019, however, the processing times were reported to be routinely exceeding 110 days. When processing time for OPT applications increases, students risk having job offers rescinded, among other things, and might have to return home.

The processing time is expected to increase significantly after Aug. 3, indicating that those graduating this summer are in a tight spot to finish and submit their applications as soon as possible.