Support international students applying for Optional Practical Training

Hairuo Yi

In 2019, over 220,000 international students applied for and received approval for their Optional Practical Training application, which gives students extensions to work in the U.S. following the completion of their program as an F-1 international student. 

For students at UT, this process is both expensive and inflexible. 

Not only must students be present in the U.S. while submitting an application for the program, but they must also pay a $150 fee to the International Student and Scholar Services for administrative services, $410 filing fee to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, along with the $125 service fee all international students and scholars must pay per semester. 

UT must provide more resources for international students applying for OPT this semester. 

With an unclear timeline and long processing times for students, Texas Global is providing little support for students.

“Students currently outside the U.S. who are graduating in spring and who wish to apply for OPT must reenter the U.S. as soon as possible and no later than the spring graduation date of May 22,” Margaret Luevano, director of International Student and Scholar Services, said in an email. 

These strict deadlines, as well as other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, have encouraged some students such as Yoalli Rodriguez, a Latin American studies doctoral candidate from Mexico, to apply for an extension of their student status. For international students, status depends on the dates of validity of their I-20, a document issued by the school to confirm student status. 

Rodriguez said they applied for an extension of their status in February to qualify for the OPT but still have not received approval. Rodriguez decided to enter the U.S. again due to uncertainty around their immigration status as their I-20 was going to expire soon. 

“The fact that I had to come back just for this paperwork is really sad and heartbreaking for me, because I’m not allowed to be in my home country (to) take care of my family and friends,” Rodriguez said. “My mom passed away years ago so now my dad is all by himself in Mexico. I was trying to be with him in the process of this pandemic but now I’m isolated by myself in the U.S.”

Not only are UT’s long processing times stressful for students; the lack of support surrounding United States Citizenship and Immigration Services applications are also a worrisome factor.

Diya Datta, a neuroscience senior from India, said she wishes ISSS would provide more staff and timely responses toward students who are applying for the OPT this semester as many international students are facing the same issue of timeliness and staff support at this time.

“It took three weeks to get my I-20 but I would definitely say I am one of the lucky ones, because I see the (international) Facebook page and every day there’s a new student saying they haven’t received a reply in weeks,” Datta said. “I cannot blame the international office because they are understaffed, but UT brings in a lot of international students, so they need to keep in mind when things like OPT season need more attention.”

With almost five thousand international students at UT, making up 10% of the student population, UT needs to address the lack of resources and support for students applying for more work experience during their time in the U.S. 

From constant fees to high response times, UT cannot neglect its stressed out international student population any longer.

Yi is a psychology freshman from Lubbock, Texas.