Students planning to apply for OPT after graduating may experience further restrictions given COVID-19. While the situation is continually evolving, the Quest asked for input from students, as well as Marianna Panossi, Minerva’s Student Services Global Director, to clarify real, potential, and unlikely difficulties.

On April 27, Brian Kilmeade of Fox News interviewed U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who spoke for the first time about possible recommendations to restrictions on international students working in the U.S. on an Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa. 

The current ban on aliens as immigrants, which began April 22nd, does not impact F-1 student visa holders or those applying for OPT. To date, no official recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have been announced regarding the suspension of OPT. 

On May 7th, U.S. Republican senators Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Chuck Grassley, and Josh Hawley wrote a letter to the White House urging Trump to suspend programs like OPT “for one year or until our national unemployment figures return to normal levels.” A suggestion that, if put into place, could impact later graduating classes like M’21. 

On May 23rd, the Wall Street Journal reportedly spoke to White House officials who said “The Trump administration is expected to set limits” on OPT. 

What is OPT

OPT is a work authorization allowing foreign students to work in the U.S. for a year, or three years if in a STEM field, following graduation from a U.S. college. Students reported applying for OPT for a number of reasons, including: increased economic or employment opportunities, needing to earn more to pay off loans in USD which would be difficult if not impossible to pay off given home currency exchange rates, and wanting to stay in the U.S. long term. 

Students in their senior year can apply for OPT between 90 days before and 60 days after graduating, with or without a job offer, though they are strongly recommended to be in the U.S. while their application is pending. 

A few M’20 students have found themselves outside of the U.S. unable to apply given travel restrictions. 

Potential Restrictions on OPT 

To date, there is no official policy, recommendation, or presidential proclamation from the U.S. government to limit or suspend OPT.

If Trump implemented the ban, it would come in response to the highest unemployment rate in the U.S. since 1940, during the World War II draft, in an attempt to ensure citizens are first in line to get jobs. Opponents of such a ban, however, point to evidence cited by business interests that programs like OPT actually increase employment and economic development in the U.S.

The April 22nd Presidential Proclamation that placed a 60-day ban on green cards also required “the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the Secretary of the Department of Labor, and the Secretary of the Department of State … to deliver their individual recommendations [regarding further action in immigration] to President Trump” by May 22nd, Marianna Panossi, Minerva’s Director of Global Student Services, told The Quest. 

President Trump would be able to restrict this type of immigration through the use of a second Presidential proclamation. This type of proclamation is subject to Congressional authorization and judicial review, though remains in effect until “cancelled, revoked, proven unlawful, or expire[d],” Panossi said.

Support for OPT and Minerva Applicants

The Quest reached out to Panossi for comment on the Wolf interview, the above letter, the rumors surrounding recommendations of suspension of OPT, and the potential impact on Minerva students. 

“Minerva administration, faculty, and staff are joining efforts led by other institutions to voice our concerns regarding potential pause and/or suspension of such integral programs,” she said. She maintained it is important to know the “U.S. government has allowed international students to pursue ‘employment for practical training’ for over 70 years.” Business communities and educational institutions alike have voiced their disapproval of the potential restrictions.

As those official recommendations have yet to be announced, according to Panossi, “contingency planning, in this case, is nearly impossible to draft without any information regarding what programs may be included, the effective dates, the impact on current participants of these benefits, etc.” 

This is not the first time Trump has considered restricting visas for high-skilled workers. While he has made the program somewhat more difficult, he has also taken a more “mixed” stance on these immigrants in an attempt to balance the interests of pro-business groups, who benefit from these workers, and the anti-immigration camp. Last month, he opted not to block guest worker programs as part of his COVID-19 immigration restrictions, in “a concession to business groups.”

What does this mean for Minerva Students?

According to Panossi, 50 M’20 students have applied for OPT this year. An informal Quest poll conducted on a private M’20 Facebook group found at least 10 of these students have already been accepted. Of those, some already have jobs lined up, while others are in the U.S. attempting to find jobs – though many have been met by hiring freezes. 

22 M’19 students are eligible for STEM OPT extensions, of which five have already applied, Panossi told the Quest. If officially put in place by President Trump, a ban on new applicants for programs like OPT – as described in the Cotton letter – could affect those applying for the first time or for an extension, jeopardizing both graduating M’20 applicants and M’19 extension seekers. 

“I continue to monitor the developments daily and will share any pertinent information as it becomes available with an analysis of the impact on Minerva Schools at KGI both short term and long term,” Panossi concluded.

The Quest will continue to report on both student experience of the OPT process and updates from the U.S. government.

A previous version of this article had a typo, saying we currently have the “lowest” unemployment rate since 1940. It has been correct to “highest”