Carnegie Mellon University
January 08, 2021

OPT Applications and USCIS Lockbox Delays

Update as of February 19, 2021

USCIS has recently provided the following updates regarding the ongoing delays:

  • Processing delays will not affect the received date. All submissions are date stamped upon arrival at the Lockbox, so regardless of when the Lockbox processes your application, your received date will reflect the date it actually arrived at the Lockbox.
  • We will not reject applications solely because they were filed at the lockbox address in use prior to the change to the filing address instructions announced on Jan. 8, 2021. We encourage applicants filing Form I-765 to always check the form instructions on our website for the most up-to-date filing instructions.
  • If you have timely filed Form I-765 based on STEM OPT, and your post-completion OPT period expires while the application is pending, we will automatically extend the employment authorization for 180 days. The Form I-20 endorsed by the designated school official recommending a STEM extension together with the expired Form I-766 employment authorization document (EAD) issued for post-completion OPT establishes identity and work authorization for purposes of documenting employment authorization.

Update as of January 27, 2021

We have two updates to share: 

  1. On January 26 American Council on Education (ACE) sent a letter to DHS (co-signed by NAFSA and other educational associations), advocating for a number of relief measures for students applying for OPT and STEM OPT who are affected by the receipt processing delays.
  2. The USCIS Ombudsman’s office has issued the following instructions for those who are still experiencing lengthy delays: “We will continue to 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. If USCIS does not respond to your inquiry within 30 days, you may submit a request for case assistance to the CIS Ombudsman”.

We will continue to update this news page should we hear of any further developments. 

January 8, 2021 

Applications which were filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) particularly in Dallas, TX have been experiencing processing delays due to COVID-19 and related safety concerns for USCIS staff.  These delays have been very stressful for our community as people are unable to determine if their applications have been received by USCIS.  Students and OIE staff have been advocating for USCIS to change their processes.  In an effort to correct the problem, USCIS, without any prior announcement, has changed the mailing address for OPT applications effective 1/8/2021. 

If you are planning to file an application for OPT, or any other USCIS application, make sure to check the USCIS website to determine the correct mailing address at the time you file the application.  As USCIS attempts to manage their work during this pandemic, they may change application mailing addresses again.  

If you previously filed your application with the Dallas or Phoenix Lockbox addresses and you are still waiting for your receipt notice, please do not file a duplicate application to the new filing address.   It is our understanding that the USCIS Ombudsman’s office has indicated that USCIS will transfer I-765s filed at the AZ and TX lockboxes to another location. OIE will communicate an update to this news article as soon as we have additional information.

If you are on STEM OPT and your EAD card is due to expire, as long as your STEM OPT extension is timely filed (properly delivered to USCIS before the expiration of your current OPT EAD card), you benefit from an automatic extension of your work authorization while the extension application is pending with USCIS for up to 180 days after the expiration of the current card.

  • USCIS addresses this in their FAQ
  • Similarly, it is codified in the immigration regulations at: 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(11)(i)(C)
  • Your employer's I-9 obligations are explained in I-9 Central and the evidence section of the M-274 Handbook For Employers
  • You may show your employer the USCIS issued I-797C, Receipt Notice for the extension if you wish, but it is not required by the government regulations above. Your employer can legally verify your continued authorization using the following documents:
  • Current (expired) OPT EAD Card
  • STEM OPT I-20 (with new validity dates) issued by our office at the time of your application
Please check with your employer and feel free to share the above information with them.