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Faster F-1 Visa Approvals on the Horizon: USCIS Announces Premium Processing and Online Filing for Select Students

As of March 6, 2023, USCIS began accepting premium processing upgrade requests for current F-1 students who have a pending Application for Work Authorization for either Pre-Completion OPT, Post-Completion OPT, or a 24-Month Extension of OPT for STEM students.

Why Did USCIS Make Premium Processing Available for Certain F-1 Students?

This was made possible as part of the September 30, 2020 Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act, which included provisions aimed at addressing the USCIS budget shortfall.  The bill granted USCIS immediate access to existing premium processing funds that were set aside for infrastructure improvement to cover operating costs. Further, in order to make up for the budget gap at USCIS, the bill also boosted income for the agency by increasing the existing premium processing fees for the majority of form types and extending premium processing to additional form types, now including I-765 applications for F-1 students.

How Does Premium Processing Work for F-1 Students?

F-1 students with a pending I-765 application for Pre-Completion OPT, Post-Completion OPT, or a 24-Month STEM Extension may now upgrade their applications to premium processing by paying an additional fee of $1,500 and filing an I-907 Request for Premium Processing Service.

The processing time for an OPT application that has been upgraded to premium processing is 30 calendar days. This time period will begin when USCIS properly receive the Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, at the correct filing address. Within the 30-day time period, USICS will take one of the following actions on the case:

  • issue an approval notice
  • issue a denial notice
  • issue a notice of intent to deny
  • issue a request for evidence
  • open an investigation for fraud or misrepresentation

If the application requires the submission of additional evidence or a response to a notice of intent to deny, the 30-day premium processing time period will stop and reset. A new 30-day time period will begin when USCIS receives a response to the request for evidence or notice of intent to deny.

What About Online Filing of Premium Processing Requests?

The USCIS announcement also made available online filing of the I-907 for the first time. Students wishing to file their premium processing upgrade request online must first register for a USCIS online account. This account allows applicants to submit forms, pay fees, and keep track of the progress of any pending USCIS immigration requests during the adjudication process.  Students who previously filed a paper Form I-765 should refer to the USCIS Account Access Notice they received for the Online Access Code and instructions on how to link their paper-filed cases to their online account. Otherwise, the student will need to file a paper Form I-907 with the Chicago lockbox in order to upgrade the pending OPT application.

When Will New I-765 Applications Be Eligible for Premium Processing?

It is important to note that this new provision only applies to F-1 students with I-765 applications that have already been filed with USCIS and remain pending. For students who have not yet filed an I-765 application, premium processing will not become available until April 3, 2023.

Starting on April 3rd, USCIS will accept premium processing requests for F-1 students when submitted concurrently with a Form I-765 for Pre-Completion OPT, Post-Completion OPT, or a 24-Month STEM Extension.

When Will I-539 Applications Be Eligible for Premium Processing?

The Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act also authorized USCIS to issue immigration regulations to establish fees and extend premium processing services to change of status requests for F-1 students.  When USCIS implements premium processing for I-539 change of status applications, the filing fee will be no greater than $1,750 and the processing time will be no longer than 30 days. USCIS anticipates expanding premium processing for certain students with a pending Form I-539 application in May 2023 and certain students who are filing an initial Form I-539 application in June 2023.

What Are the Benefits of Using Premium Processing for Pre-Completion OPT, Post-Completion OPT, or a 24-Month STEM Extension?

Both applicants and employers can benefit from USCIS premium processing for employment authorization. Among these advantages are:

Faster adjudication of applications: Premium processing promises a response from USCIS within 30 calendar days. This can be particularly helpful in time-sensitive situations, as when an employee’s authorization is about to expire or the anticipated start date of employment is in the near future. Students with work opportunities at the conclusion of their higher education degree can more quickly begin their Optional Practical Training.

Better Planning: Due to the 30-day processing time’s predictability, both companies and employees can make more informed decisions about project assignments, onboarding, and other work-related decisions. The impact on business operations and worker productivity can be reduced as a result.

Increased Clarity: Premium processing makes employment authorization decisions more quickly, which lessens uncertainty. As a result, it is possible for both employers and employees to reduce the risks connected with authorization clearance delays.

Requests for Evidence (RFEs) expedited resolution: If USCIS issues a Request for Evidence (RFE) during premium processing, the applicant has a set amount of time to respond. After receiving the response, USCIS will carry on processing the application within 30 days, assuring a speedy conclusion.

Enhanced Communication: Premium processing gives applicants direct access to USCIS, including the ability to communicate with USCIS through a secure inbox and respond to Requests for Evidence online. This makes it easier for applicants to communicate with USCIS, which improves case management effectiveness.

Potential for Reduced Anxiety: Employers and applicants who may be worried about anticipated delays or difficulties in the employment authorization application may find that the faster processing time reduces their stress and anxiety.

Premium processing has an additional cost, but the advantages it offers applicants and businesses who need a quick response to their employment authorization applications can be quite useful. For F-1 students hoping to get worthwhile job experience in the US, the introduction of premium processing for Optional Practical Training (OPT) applications marks a significant milestone. This accelerated service not only reduces the anxiety and uncertainty brought on by the lengthy processing timeframes, but it also helps employers and students make more informed plans for the future. As immigration lawyers, we are aware of the difficulties that foreign students encounter when navigating the American immigration system. In order to provide a smooth transition from education to employment, our committed team is here to assist students and their employers to take advantage of this new opportunity and can walk you through every stage of the OPT application process.

By: Emily Neumann

Emily Neumann is Managing Partner at Reddy Neumann Brown PC. with over 15 years of experience practicing US immigration law providing services to U.S. businesses and multinational corporations. Emily has helped transform the firm from a solo practice to Houston’s largest immigration law firm focused exclusively on U.S. employment-based immigration.  She received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Central Michigan University and her Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Houston Law Center. Emily has been quoted in Bloomberg Law, U.S. News & World Report, Inside Higher Ed, and The Times of India on various hot topics in immigration. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Society for Human Resource Management.

If you are in need of a US work visa or permanent residency, speak with one of our immigration lawyers. Please contact us online, call our Houston business immigration attorney office directly at 713-953-7787, or schedule a consultation.