The number of international students has increased in participation in Optional Practical Training (OPT) in the US in the last few years. The program allows authorized foreign students to stay and work in the United States for up to 12 months after their graduation. The students graduated from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields have received benefits from two executive orders in 2008 and 2016, which provides them extended work teams of additional 24 months and up to three years in total.
Students can file their application for OTP up to 90 days before their graduation and it typically takes a processing time of 60 to 90 days. This year, however, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) projects the processing time up to five months. The students have reported lost internship and employment opportunities due to extended processing times this year.
As per the sources, the delays in the process is because of the policy change by the US Department of Homeland Security in 2017, which eliminated a long-standing performance standard that all such applications be processed within 90-days window.
The extent and nature of these reforms are not yet clear but any changes that may restrict the access of students to OTP or places additional demands on employers as a part of the process will be a concern for students, educators, and other stakeholders.