New USCIS Policy Guidance for International Students in 2024
With the onset of the new year 2024, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) came out with comprehensive updated information for international students. Mainly, rules guide them about work-related application procedures and other associated processes.
Let’s take a quick glance over the major strokes of the changes brought by USCIS.
The changes are to come into effect in January 2024, and some of them are as follows:
Cutting the dual application procedure:
In order to reduce the workload created due to dual applications under a change of status from B- to F and an extension of duration of stay, an applicant had to file two applications, which have now been clubbed into one application.
Earlier, for instance, if an international student possessed a B Visa status (mainly intended for visits for shorter duration, be it about short-term language programs or other purposes) and then wanted to change their status to F-1 status, they had to file two separate applications;
The first Change of Status application is to switch from B to F-1 status, granting an immigrant status; the other application is in order to extend their authorised stay duration in the states beyond the initial entry period allowed. You can request both under the same application.
Meanwhile, if any applicant needs any help regarding the documentation of a Visa application or similar consultation, they can try contacting any immigration consultants in Delhi. They will be in a better position to assist with the latest information available and better help to sail through the application process.
Tightening rules for work authorisation under OPT (Optional Practical Training):
Another main change brought by the new guidelines is about OPT. Currently, students with an F-1 Status are allowed to work off-campus under OPT. Under this, the students belonging to the STEM fields were allowed an extension of 24 months. It has now been reduced to 12 months. It remains 12 months, only one year for bachelor’s and master’s students.
Centralising the School Transfer Process:
Another change is around transferring schools as an international student. Currently, F-1 students are able to transfer to a new school within the US, keeping in mind they meet the necessary requirements. However, the new update has centralised the process of transferring schools and, to some extent, made it tougher comparatively. The applicant must first acquire consent/prior approval from the USCIS before they can transfer schools, potentially making the process longer and more complex.
The guidelines also clarify details pertaining to doubtful and ambiguous areas.
Enhanced OPT Rules for Startups:
More specific guidelines are provided for STEM OPT students working with startup companies. Requirements around eligibility of students and programs are better defined, making it easier for startups to hire international talent on OPT.
Increasing the On-Campus Classes mandate(Reducing the flexibility of Online mode)
The guidance also tightens the rules around online courses. Currently, F-1 students can take some online/remote courses and still maintain their visa status. However, the new rules limit online enrollment to 25% of the course load per semester. That is, the new regulations announced by USCIS for F-1 students will only allow them to enrol for up to 25% of their classes online each semester. This could impact the flexibility the current scenario with online classes provides.
On and Off-Campus Employment:
Rules governing on-campus and off-campus jobs available to students are explained in detail, removing previous ambiguity around employment options.Apart from these, there are other changes laid down by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
The USCIS has brought out guidelines for stricter scrutiny of records of students:
That is, the USCIS can more closely monitor the attendance, grades, and course loads of students. This will require schools to also maintain and update detailed records to prove students are genuinely pursuing full-time education. This was not the case until now; USCIS didn’t check student’s attendance, grades, and course loads very closely or very often. But, the new rules have clearly stated the new intend for closer monitoring and to see how regularly a student attends classes, what grades they score, and overall how many classes they take each term. Schools will also have to provide student’s progress to prove they are studying full-time.
Spouses will have to secure separate Work visas.
Prior to the update spouses of students could work legally in the US through EAD cards. But now, they will need separate work visas like H-4 or L-2, making it tougher for families to support themselves financially.
Strict deadlines for program completion:
The guidelines lay down more stringent rules for students to complete their respective programs within the published/stipulated deadlines, with less leverage for longer duration, even if delays are due to genuine reasons(earlier provided on behalf of the pandemic)
Reduced post-graduation stay duration:
Previously, once a student completed their post-graduation, they had a buffer period of 60 days to either prepare for OPT or leave the US. This extension has now been reduced to 30 days only, giving students less time to find jobs or travel before departing and to overall take decisions.
We tried giving a contrasting detailed account of the rules prior to and after the new updates. We hope we were able to help clarify the doubts troubling you. There may be others as well that we couldn’t cover in this blog, but we tried to bring to attention the major broad changes brought about. For additional information regarding it, an applicant can contact a Visa Consultant in Delhi because they can better help regarding the latest updates. Continue visiting us to get more insights into the Visa Sector and help understand complex details in simpler words.