29 Jan Federal Court Upholds Optional Practical Training for Students
Washington, D.C., January 29, 2021: Recently, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s regulation that created the Optional Practical Training Program (known also by its initials, OPT).
The OPT program allows qualifying students in the United States on F-1 academic student visas who graduate from an eligible U.S. university to obtain temporary work authorization for up to 12 months to work in their field of study. The OPT program was launched in 1992, and has been embraced by universities, foreign students and U.S. employers. Since 2008, the OPT program offers a longer work permit for students who graduated from U.S. universities with diplomas in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields (known as “STEM” fields). The STEM OPT program allows students an additional 24 months of work authorization in the U.S. The foreign student must have maintained proper visa status in the U.S. during the first year of OPT, and must be offered a job in their field by a U.S. employer registered in the e-Verify online work eligibility system run by the Department of Homeland Security.
OPT programs became controversial precisely because they attract skilled workers, who may qualify for work authorization despite a tightening labor market and changing political trends.
The lawsuit was filed recently by a labor union, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech). Opposing its lawsuit was the defendant, Department of Homeland Security, joined by over 100 U.S. universities and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The key complaint by WashTech was that the government agencies “exceeded its statutory authority” by creating the OPT program without congressional approval. It also claimed that the program caused “increased competition with WashTech members with foreign workers.”
Ultimately, the Federal District Court dismissed the lawsuit in November 2020 and issued its decision in January, 2021.
As of today, the OPT program remains in place unchanged. Potential plans for a revised OPT program under the Trump Administration have been placed on hold as the new Biden Administration takes office.
The OPT program thus continues to serve to attract talented and entrepreneurial students to study in the United States.
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