USCIS have reported delays for processing receipt notices at the Dallas Lockbox facility in Texas (where OPT applications are delivered), which it says are due “to ongoing coronavirus-related impacts and a recent increase in requests for immigration benefits”.
“Many students have reported severe chest pain, sleepless nights, depression”
In an online petition students said that they had sent their applications to the Dallas Lockbox last year, but that on October 28, 2020, processing at the facility stopped. The students say that almost no applications have been receipted since that date, despite the process normally taking around two weeks.
Some students fear they might face deportation as their legal status has expired. Others said that their employment offers are being jeopardised due to the delay.
The PIE News accessed an online chat room where hundreds of international students were expressing their concerns about the delays.
An international student told The PIE that there are two groups of students who are looking at taking the case to court, as they are finishing their last grace period.
“No students actually want to take it to court, but I can understand given the seriousness of the matter. Their lives and dreams are on the line,” the student said.
“The mental health impact has been horrible. Many students have reported severe chest pain, sleepless nights, depression,” they added.
The student said that many have had their insurance cancelled, that they have lost jobs and had their driving license expire.
“This has gone from an OPT issue to a humanitarian situation,” they said.
A key concern for students is that processing delays will result in them losing job offers.
One graduate of a doctoral program with a job offer (start date of January 4) said that their application was delivered to the Texas lockbox on November 9 but they had not been issued a receipt yet.
“I have a risk of losing the job opportunity if there is no movement soon. My driver’s license will expire 60 days after graduation and I will not be able to renew that until my EAD card is issued (not just receipt),” they said.
“There are no answers and no updated timeline, so it feels uncomfortable having to tell my employer each week that I still cannot prove that I filed my application in a timely manner and that we just have to keep waiting. I am not sure when they will tire of waiting for me.”
“My official employer is withdrawing my offer and I don’t have money to pay for my next rent”
Students created a video warning that they are losing their jobs and status, with one saying “my official employer is withdrawing my offer and I don’t have money to pay for my next rent”.
“We are very concerned about the processing delays at USCIS for OPT. We know OPT is an important incentive for international students who choose to study in the US,” Sarah Spreitzer, director, government relations at the American Council on Education, told The PIE.
“While it’s helpful that USCIS has recognised the issue, we are hopeful the agency can provide additional flexibility for those that have submitted applications but are currently delayed and getting close to start dates for their jobs,” she said.
Spreitzer suggested that USCIS should look at providing conditional approval if an application is delayed through no fault of the applicant because of the processing delays.
“USCIS could also expand the time frame for people to submit applications since it’s taking closer to five months for processing. Currently applicants can only apply 90 days before their start date,” she added.
Finding a solution
The CIS Ombudsman’s Office released a statement, saying that it will try to assist individuals who have not received a Notice of Action (Form I-797C) 90 days after their application/petition was received at USCIS.
“Applicants who have not received a receipt notice within 60 days of filing should first contact USCIS,” the statement said.
“USCIS will transfer I-765s filed at the Phoenix or Dallas lockboxes”
“If USCIS does not respond to your inquiry within 30 days, you may submit a request for case assistance to the CIS Ombudsman.”
“The CIS Ombudsman is working with USCIS to find solutions to mitigate the harm to applicants impacted by the delays in issuing receipt notices,” it added.
NAFSA published a statement saying that it had asked USCIS and the CIS Ombudsman’s Office for an explanation as to how applications filed at the old address will be handled.
The CIS Ombudsman’s Office told NAFSA that USCIS will transfer I-765s filed at the Phoenix or Dallas lockboxes, however it did not specify where.
It is still waiting for an answer from USCIS about whether the I-765s will be forwarded to the Chicago lockbox or directly to the Potomac Service Center, and how long USCIS will continue transferring I-765s filed at Phoenix or Dallas.
NAFSA asked USCIS to update their web pages with this information and further details so that schools and students are not required to rely on informal communications.
NAFSA also asked USCIS to provide a “grace period” for I-765s filed at Phoenix and Dallas after January 8, 2021, given the lack of advance notice.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program has also announced a new unit which will oversee employment compliance in the OPT programs in January.
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