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151 US institutions sign support for OPT program

More than 150 US colleges and universities have put their weight behind an amicus brief in support of Optional Practical Training opportunities for international graduates in the country.

Optional Practical Training permits temporary employment directly related to a student’s major area of study. Photo: Unsplash

A total of 151 US colleges and universities are supporting the brief

The written submission is part of the ongoing Washington Alliance of Technology litigation. WashTech has been in a long dispute with the Department of Homeland Security over the OPT program.

The group says it advocates for technology workers in Washington State, and its members claim they have faced competition injury from “alien guest workers” on the OPT program, however a court ruling upheld the program in favour of the DHS earlier in 2021.

WashTech said it would appeal the decision.

The amicus brief, being led by Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and NAFSA, details the benefits OPT in addition to describing the substantial costs “stakeholders will bear if WashTech prevails in this appeal”.

The amicus brief argues that the program directly benefits higher education and the US economy, as well as provides experiential learning which is a “crucial component” of US education.

Any reduction of the program would harm US higher education and the economy, and compromise institutions’ ability to compete for international students.

“Institutions must be able to offer… real, hands-on technical experience, regardless of students’ country of origin”

“Given all that institutions of higher education invest to attract, educate, and develop international students from around the world, it makes little sense to prohibit willing international students from contributing to the US economy,” the brief reads.

“But this is precisely what WashTech’s requested relief would do. International students would lack a clear path to apply their skills in the US after graduation, and other nations would capture the return on America’s investment.”

In recent years, the OPT program – which according to Open Doors was the primary driver behind the 1.5% increase in international student numbers in 2018 – has faced both legal and political pressure.

Supporters of the program contend that the program is critical for its experiential learning opportunities, allowing students to practice and implement skills they develop on US campuses.

The program has also been “integral” in attracting international talent and has allowed the US to “reap the benefits of this highly motivated, creative, and industrious group of young people”, the submission highlighted.

“In an increasingly competitive global education market, institutions must be able to offer all students the opportunity to pursue real, hands-on technical experience, regardless of their country of origin,” said Alan W. Cramb, president of Illinois Institute of Technology.

“OPT represents a crucial avenue for international students to apply their education within the US workforce, and a rollback of OPT would significantly hinder the ability of international students to contribute to our nation’s economic engine.”

A total of 151 US colleges and universities are supporting the brief.

Speaking with The PIE News recently president of Pace University Marvin Krislov said the higher education community had “been really clear about the importance of OPT”, and suggested he would like to see it broadened.

Chancellor of California State University Joseph I. Castro said its 23 campuses take “great pride” in serving international students from more than 80 different countries.

“Ending OPT would constrict the pipeline of talented students attending our campuses by limiting opportunities to pursue a full and vigorous education, and potentially inhibit economic growth for our country,” Castro noted.

“The US is now in a global competition for international students and scholars”

“The geographic breadth and great variety of the higher education institutions that are part of this effort underscore the immense contributions that international students make to our campuses and communities,” Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance, continued.

“Our nation’s economy and educational institutions are undeniably enriched by the presence of talented, diverse, and motivated international students and OPT is a key factor in attracting those very students,” NAFSA CEO and executive director Esther D. Brimmer said.

“The US is now in a global competition for international students and scholars. To ensure that we continue to benefit from these individuals and their investments in our communities, we must maintain this time-tested program.”

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