U.S. News


Coronavirus Affects International Students' Plans To Work In U.S.

Some international students without jobs could lose their visa statuses.
Posted at 7:58 PM, Apr 23, 2020

“I am an international student on an F1 visa. And I’m originally from China. ... And when I’m graduating this May, I am supposed to go work as a software engineer for a big tech firm. But last Thursday, I was contacted by my recruiter saying my offer was postponed until August 2021.”

EVA, who asked that we only use her first name due to privacy concerns, is one of thousands of students who come from around the world to study in the U.S.

After graduation, the plan was to remain in the U.S. under a Department of Homeland Security program called Optional Practical Training, or OPT.

“OPT, which for people who don’t know, is a one-year period that comes with my F1 student visa that allows me to do work in the United States,” Eva explained.

The program allows international students to work in the U.S. for one year — on the condition that they have a full-time job consistent with their major.

Now, a lost or delayed job for people like Eva, or people who have already graduated, means the clock starts ticking. If, within 90 days, they don’t find a new job compliant with OPT regulations, pursue a higher-level degree or somehow get a different visa, then they will have to leave the country.

“If I can't find a job, then I can't stay in this country and have to go back to China.” Eva said.

Pressure is mounting for the DHS to expand the number of unemployment days. More than 28,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org saying they should expand the number because of the impact of COVID-19.

U.S. Customs and Immigration Services hasn’t made any decisions, but told Newsy, “USCIS will continue to monitor the coronavirus pandemic; consider stakeholder recommendations; assess various options related to temporary employment programs in coordination with DHS as the situation evolves; and communicate any changes we make."

According to the most recent data available from USCIS, there were more than 150,000 international students who were authorized to work under the post-graduation OPT program in 2019.

Eva said that “for international students, if the situation is if they don't find a job now, then they have to leave this country. And that includes me and a lot of my friends. So I think, yeah, if the government can be more lenient in that respect, we would really appreciate that.”