OPT for international students in the USA – will it be end by the government? Will working in the USA be easy for international students?
When students look at studying abroad, they are looking not only at the courses offered but also the job opportunities that will follow it. Since most students have to take heavy loans to study abroad, ideally, they will be looking for jobs in the country they’ve graduated from.
This is one of the reasons why America offers students the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. But, with rising unemployment levels and growing resistance to immigrants, all international students may not get to experience this in the future.
COVID-19 Impact On OPT For International Students In USA
Under usual circumstances, students have a 120 days window to file for OPT. this begins 90 days before they graduate. The application must be filed from within the USA.
However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities closed their campuses in March and international students found themselves buying tickets to head back home.
According to the current rules, students who had not already filed for their OPT will not be eligible for this program. OPT approval is required even for unpaid summer internships that are not required for course credit.
In some cases, students have been advised to drop a semester and return later to complete their courses in-person. However, this makes them ineligible for the OPT program. Students who had job offers have had to let them go and look at alternative opportunities in their own countries.
While students have been allowed to maintain their student visa status while taking online classes from wherever they are, no flexibility has been introduced to expand the window to file for OPT.
What Do Colleges Have To Say?
For American colleges, the OPT program is the biggest incentive they can offer international students. They fear that without this, students will look elsewhere for their education.
This would be detrimental to their financial health since international students pay a considerably higher tuition fee as compared to domestic students.
Over the past decade, the number of students enrolled in the OPT program has almost doubled. Schools also fear that without an opportunity to put what they have learned in classrooms into practical use, the quality of education imparted to international students will also be affected especially in complex fields like those in the STEM sector.
Historical Lawsuits Against The OPT Program
OPT has existed for over 50 years. One of the recent legal suits to be filed against the OPT program was in 2014. In 2016, the rules were amended to give STEM students the right to work for 3 years and non-STEM students, the right to work for 1 year as part of the OPT program.
More recently another lawsuit was filed on the reasoning that since students on OPT were no longer answerable to a college/ university, the OPT program was contrary to immigration laws and over the DHS authority.
The Government’s View On OPT For International Students
With over 20.5 million jobs lost in April alone, the US government is being pressurized to find a way to increase employment levels for American citizens.
Anti-immigration activists and Republican lawmakers are pushing the government to curtail guest worker visa programs and the OPT for international students. On April 22nd, the government issues a presidential proclamation that suspended the entry of immigrants for at least 60 days.
It is interesting to note that a bill was drafted in 2015 to keep international students from working in America after graduation unless they had worked abroad for at least 10 years. At the time, the bill was not passed but given the current scenario, something similar may soon be in the works.
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