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Republicans urge Supreme Court to hear OPT appeal

Republican party politicians in the US are pushing for the Supreme Court to hear an appeal from a group calling Optional Practical Training opportunities for international graduates to be halted.

Republican senators in the US have called on the Supreme Court to hear the Washtech case. Photo: Wikimedia/ Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Since 1947, the program has enabled international students to access experiential learning, NAFSA noted

The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers union, which represents STEM labour market workers from the US, has long argued that OPT “hurts” American citizens as it provides job opportunities for international talent.

Over several years, the union has raised the issue in courts in the US on several occasions, including in 2019. In 2021, courts ruled in favour of the Department of Homeland Security, which allowed STEM graduates on F-1 visas to access OPT.

Most recently, the ruling was upheld by the US Court of Appeals, which US institutions – many of which have long backed the post-study work opportunity for international graduates – hailed as a “victory”.

US senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Tom Cotton, Mike Braun and Katie Boyd Britt have now urged the Supreme Court to hear the case through an amicus brief submitted on June 5.

The Supreme Court has this year shaken the US higher education sector by repealing affirmative action and striking down a student debt forgiveness plan introduced by the Biden administration.

In the written submission, the group of Republican senators say previous rulings “are not just wrong but vitiate the non-immigration visa system”, in addition to rendering other Immigration and Nationality Act provisions “illogical or superfluous”.

They say decisions are “already having profound consequences” on both the US immigration system and on American workers, and “consequences will only multiply over time”.

The group fears that “hundreds of thousands of aliens” will remain in the country, “competing against American citizens for jobs”.

NAFSA, together with Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, led an amicus brief in support of the OPT program back in 2021.

While the WashTech case made its way through the legal system, the organisation has argued that “losing OPT would be a real blow to US higher education and society as a whole”, deputy executive director for Public Policy, Jill Allen Murray, said.

Since 1947, the program has enabled international students to access experiential learning, which she said is “a key part of what makes a US higher education so desirable to domestic and international students alike”.

“Our nation’s economy and educational institutions are undeniably enriched by the presence of talented, diverse, and motivated international students and OPT is an important factor in attracting those students,” Allen Murray noted.

NAFSA reiterated that the “ongoing threat to OPT” make apparent that the country needs a coordinated national strategy for international education.

“With such an overarching commitment in place, successful international education policies – such as OPT – would be more likely to be recognised as essential,” Allen Murray said.

“The US should provide a direct path to green cards for international student graduates of US colleges and universities who wish to work here and have employers willing to sponsor them,” she added.

Asked whether NAFSA is concerned with the calls for the Supreme Court to hear the Washtech case given recent rulings by the country’s highest court, Allen Murray stated, “While it is impossible to predict the rulings of the Supreme Court, NAFSA stands by the legality of OPT.”

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