OCTOBER 2023
Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida

Immigration

Employment Authorization for F-1 Students

By Dilip Patel

Dilip Patel

DILIP PATEL

The University of South Florida and other local colleges are home to a large number of international students. For example, in fall 2021, 4,692 international students were enrolled at USF. Of those, almost 1,000 were from India with over 700 in graduate programs. The F-1 student visa generally does not permit employment except in specific circumstances. One example of employment authorization for F-1 students is the Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

OPT can allow an F-1 student to work after graduation in a field related to their degree for up to 12 months. An additional two years of employment authorization commonly referred to as the STEM OPT is available to students who graduated from a STEM program.  

The ability to work with OPT and STEM OPT is important because it could lead to a pathway for longer-term options for the graduate or for employers seeking those skills. We have recently seen heartbreaking examples of situations where the student ends up out of status and without the ability to work because of simple errors, which could have been avoided.

It is vital for students to be very familiar with the application process and seek guidance from the office of the heir designated school official (DSO). There are specific time windows during which the application must be submitted. In what follows, we provide some pointers to avoid denials and delays.

Always check the official U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website for any updates to the application form – Form I-765. The Official USCIS website is www.uscis.gov There are other websites that may have similar addresses and look official but are not part of USCIS. Make sure that the Form Version is the latest and correct version, the fees are accurate, and the application is sent to the appropriate location. It is possible to apply online and there are many advantages to using the online system. We strongly recommend online applications to avoid rejections based on version or mailing errors.
Submit the Form I-765 within 30 days (post-completion OPT) or 60 days (STEM OPT) after the DSO enters the recommendation for OPT into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.

Update your address every time you move – this applies to anyone in the immigration process, not just students.  Updating address at USCIS is easy. The USCIS website has a specific page on how to change your address. Note: the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) may not forward some mail, so changing your address with just the USPS is not enough. Also update your address with the school.
Once you have your OPT, be aware of the need to keep the DSO fully informed of any changes.  Also be aware of the limit on the number of days you can be unemployed without violating status. Seek competent legal advice about your options to maintain status in the event that you cannot secure or maintain employment. Students on post-completion OPT may not accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment. Students who receive the 24-month STEM OPT extension are given an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 days over their entire 36-month OPT/STEM OPT period.

Students are considered to be employed if they are working on OPT or STEM OPT with a valid EAD card in a field directly related to their major (as listed on the OPT I-20) and working more than 20 hours per week. Unpaid work of more than 20 hours per week while on post-completion OPT is acceptable as employment, if it is related to the student’s field of study. However, students on STEM OPT are only eligible for paid positions through employers who are e-verified.  Also note that unpaid work is generally limited to non-profit organizations. Under federal and state laws, private sector employers cannot use unpaid volunteers.

DACA: Important Update on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

On Sept. 13, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued a decision finding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Final Rule unlawful. However, the litigation continues and, in the meantime, USCIS will continue to accept and process DACA renewals and accompanying applications for EADs. For new applicants, USCIS will continue to accept the initial requests, but will not process them.



Dilip Patel of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, a board-certified expert on immigration law, can be reached at (813) 222-1120 or email dilip.patel@bipc.com

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