USCIS continues to implement the premium processing options for various types of applications filed with them, which was part of the HR 8337 bill, which passed in October 2020. They announced on March 6th, 2023 that they are making premium processing available for F1 students applying for OPT and STEM OPT. The original Sep 2020 bill includes H4 EAD premium processing options as well, but we do not know exactly when these will be implemented, we continue to wait.
In this article, we will review the summary of the announcement by USCIS related to premium processing for F1 OPT and STEM OPT applications in areas such as: how much it would cost, how it will be implemented, processing time, and how it can benefit many F1 students.
Background: HR 8337 Bill – USCIS Premium Processing Options
Back in September 2020, US Congress passed bill HR 8337, which included premium processing options for H4 EAD, L2 EAD, and other EAD categories. Technically, the EAD for F1 students applying for OPT & STEM OPT was also part of the same. Since then USCIS has been implementing premium processing one by one and the current announcement for F1 visa holders is also part of the same. You can read more at Premium Processing for H4, L2, EAD, COS, and Extensions.
Also, in March 2022, USCIS announced its plans to implement many changes to streamline the processing times of many. The current premium processing plans were also announced on a high level on which would come first. We are still waiting for H4 EAD premium processing to be made available.
OPT, STEM OPT Processing times – Current vs. History
Historically, the processing times for OPT & STEM OPT applications fluctuated often and were around 1.5 months to 4 months or more. USCIS does not provide historical data by a specific category of EAD related to F1 OPT & OPT, so you may or may not find these numbers directly.
As per USCIS historical processing times for Form I-765 (EAD) for all other categories, which includes F1 applicants of OPT & STEM OPT, for the years FY 2018 to FY 2023, they fluctuated between 3 months to 4.1 months. See the below screenshot of the same taken from the USCIS website.
The current processing time for F1 OPT and STEM OPT is about 2 months for 80% of the cases as per the processing times data available on the USCIS website. This may fluctuate based on the load and various other factors.
Now that we have an idea of the OPT and STEM OPT EAD processing times with USCIS, let’s look at the details shared by USCIS.
USCIS News: Premium Processing for F1 OPT, STEM OPT
USCIS announced in their press release on March 6th, 2023 that they would allow premium processing for F1 Students applying for OPT and STEM OPT. Below are the key details from their press release
Cost of Premium Processing for F1 OPT, STEM OPT applicants: $1500
The premium processing fee varies by the application form you have filed with USCIS. It can range anywhere from $1500 to $2500 depending on the form you filed with USCIS. The cost of premium processing for F1 students applying for premium processing is $1,500 USD. This is similar to what was originally added as part of the Bill that the US Congress passed.
Premium Processing SLA for F1 OPT, STEM OPT EAD: 30 Days
The premium processing duration can vary anywhere from 15 calendar days to 45 calendar days depending on the form you filed with USCIS. For F1 students applying for OPT or STEM OPT, the premium processing duration is 30 calendar days. Essentially, the Service Level Agreement(SLA) for F1 OPT or STEM OPT applications is 30 calendar days. You can read more at USCIS premium processing webpage
OPT EAD Categories Codes: C03A, C03B, C03C
Below are the three USCIS EAD Category codes that can apply for premium processing based on the announcement by USCIS
- Pre-completion OPT –> C03A or (c)(3)(A)
- Post-completion OPT –> C03B or (c)(3)(B)
- 24 Month STEM OPT –> C03C or (c)(3)(C)
Phase 1: from March 6th, 2023 for Pending F1 OPT, STEM OPT applications
Starting from March 6th, 2023 anyone with a pending F1 OPT, or STEM OPT application filed with USCIS can upgrade their application to premium processing by filing form I-907 with USCIS. The premium processing form can be filed using a paper form or online.
Phase 2: from April 3rd, 2023 for New F1 OPT, STEM OPT applications
Starting from April 3rd, 2023, anyone filing new OPT and STEM OPT applications with USCIS can file for premium processing using form I-907 with USCIS concurrently along with their I-765 EAD application form. Basically, if you are filing a fresh OPT or STEM OPT application with USCIS, you cannot really file for premium processing from March 6th, you need to wait.
USCIS will reject any premium processing requests, if filed wrongly
USCIS said that they would reject the premium processing requests for anyone who filed for premium processing before March 6th, 2023 for pending applications. Also, for fresh OPT, STEM OPT applications, they said that they would reject applications filed for premium processing before April 3rd, 2023.
How will Premium Processing benefit F1 OPT Students?
USCIS processing times for F1 OPT and STEM OPT are pretty reasonable at the moment with 2 months. In the past, there were nightmares for many students, where they were not able to process EAD cards and many could not even work after their graduation.
This new move with premium processing for F1 OPT and STEM OPT applicants is very beneficial as you can speed up the processing time and the EAD card within 30 days and start working. It can be very helpful for anyone filing for H1B Visa in FY 2024 season and planning to start working on OPT.
What do you think of the premium processing option for F1 students applying for OPT or STEM OPT? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.