News update for international students in USA who have applied or are in the process of applying for the Optional Training Programme (OPT) amid COVID-19, from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
The OPT is a student visa extension that allows international graduates to work in the US for up to 12 months after completing their studies. STEM majors can apply for an additional 24 month-extension. Students can either apply for the OPT while studying, known as pre-completion OPT (part-time or full-time), or after graduation which is known as post-completion OPT (full-time).
The updated guidance from SEVP states that if the economic impact of the outbreak causes a reduction of hours to below 20 hours a week, students will not be penalised. Since OPT can either be a paid job or volunteer work or a combination of both, a student who drops below 20 hours per week of work hours might consider adding some volunteer hours.
Before the pandemic struck, students on OPT must be in the US to be eligible for the student visa extension, and cannot return to their home countries and work remotely. They were also unable to return home while looking for jobs and consequently return to the US once they’ve landed one. Since the pandemic shifted many businesses online, as well as forced many international students to return home, those on OPT will now be allowed to work remotely from their home countries. Those outside the US can still participate in the OPT, but only if they have already applied and been approved before they left the country in the spring semester, and if their work is for a US-based company or organisation and can be done remotely.
If a student completed a teaching degree in the spring term and was offered a teaching position through OPT for the summer in a US-based institution, but that teaching position is now for an online class because the institution moved to remote learning, the student can continue with the OPT while outside of USA.