Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit authorized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that allows international students to work in the U.S. in order to gain practical training in their major field of study. Students who have been in lawful, full-time student status for at least one full academic year are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT to use during or after completion of their degree program. Students in STEM fields are eligible for up to 3 years of additional OPT (STEM OPT Extension) after completion of their degree program.
The USCIS has recently projected an increase in application processing time (up to five months). Agency officials say they have experienced an uptick in requests which has resulted in a backlog of applications.
The MIT International Students Office (ISO) is working closely with all of our students who have applied for OPT authorization for summer employment and are still waiting for approval.
1. How many MIT international students seeking to work in the U.S. this summer have been affected by the OPT processing delays?
As of June 16, 2019, 45 MIT students filed Pre-completion of degree OPT applications (43 graduate students and 2 undergraduate students). Fifteen have been approved and seven were eligible to obtain Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorizations instead of OPT. A total of 23 applications are pending; they are all associated with graduate students. Nineteen of those applications have extended beyond the internship start date while four are still within the timeframe of the requested start date. Currently, 415 MIT graduate and undergraduate students are authorized for experiences under CPT authorization this summer.
2. How is MIT supporting students facing delays?
Primarily led by the International Students Office (ISO) and the Washington Office, MIT helps students through education, administrative support, and advocacy.
The ISO and Office of the Vice Chancellor have reached out to the 23 students with pending applications mentioned above. We will work with these students and their departments to mitigate any financial challenges associated with delays in their employment start dates. So far we have offered support to 10 students who have financial concerns due to the delay.
Beyond managing specific situations, the ISO requires all students applying for CPT or OPT to attend a mandatory ISO F-1 (CPT-OPT) Employment Information Session. This helps make sure that students understand what their employment authorization application will entail and how long it is likely to take to process.
Currently, processing times average 90-100 days. Unfortunately, the timing for a specific application is open-ended and hard to predict because USCIS does not need to comply with any legal time limit for reviewing applications. For OPT applications that are pending beyond 90 days, the ISO helps students check on their application status and, if they are eligible, helps them request an expedited review, following USCIS’s tight criteria for expedited cases.
For applications that extend beyond the requested internship start date, the ISO works with students regarding expedited request procedures, including by having conversations with employers. In addition, we reach out to USCIS and to the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman to resolve any USCIS errors or lost employment authorization cards.
In addition, ISO and MIT’s Washington Office track the trends in processing delays and partners with international education professional associations as well as Congressional offices to advocate to the USCIS and U.S. Department of Homeland Security on behalf of international students
3. What alternative solutions is MIT exploring to help students who are experiencing delays?
We continue to work with MIT students and academic departments interested in creating CPT-eligible internship/experiential learning subjects in their curriculum. Since 2015, at least 12 academic programs at MIT have added CPT-eligible opportunities. The full list of CPT-eligible classes appears here.
For students with OPT applications that have extended beyond their requested internship start date, ISO Advisors will check with the students’ academic departments to explore whether CPT would be an option for the student. The ISO is also available to speak with a student’s employer if the employer has questions about OPT and processing timelines. In our experience, most employers are understanding about the delays being beyond a student’s control and will adjust or defer starting dates until OPT is secured.
In some cases, employers have arranged for their overseas subsidiaries to hire the student abroad until the OPT authorization comes through for the U.S. job.
Finally, in the coming year, we will continue our efforts to encourage departments to put in place professional development and experiential learning requirements. We are also exploring broader long-term solutions that are related to curricular requirements for experiential learning. These will need to be considered through the faculty governance process.