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US: “victory” as OPT ruling upheld by appeal court

The US Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by the district court granting the administration the legal authority for Optional Practical Training and STEM OPT to be allowed for F-1 international students. 

The ruling will provide more ease for graduates to be able to undertake OPT and stem OPT programs. Photo: Pexels

The program gives international graduates the opportunity to work in an area “closely related to their study”

In a move which the Presidents’ Alliance has called a “victory”, the ruling, which has been supported in an amici brief by over 150 different universities as a “job creator” and a “critical role in experiential learning”, will provide more assurance that graduates will be able to undertake OPT and STEM OPT programs. 

The program gives international graduates the opportunity, for an initial 12 months (longer on STEM programs), to work in an area “closely related to their study”. Applications can also be made for an extension to up to 36 months.

“We are very gratified by the decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals. Experiential learning, such as OPT, is now and has long been, a crucial component of education in this country, and OPT provides international students with a vital resource for gaining work experience, complementing their education, and pursuing their careers,” executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance Miriam Feldblum told The PIE News.

“OPT provides international students with a vital resource for gaining work experience”

The litigation began when the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers renewed its previous efforts in the 1990s to end the OPT program, which acts as an extension of the American F-1 international student visa. 

“OPT participants are critical to maintaining amici’s research excellence and ability to provide world-class undergraduate instruction, particularly in the important “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” the original litigation briefings stated. 

“International graduate students are integral to many departmental research initiatives that attract outstanding faculty in STEM fields, and by teaching undergraduates they allow amici to maintain large and diverse course offerings,” it continued.

Feldblum also recognised that that offering is needed to give the US the edge when searching for international students.

“We need to recognise that the United States is in a global competition for international students, and US colleges and universities must be able to offer all students the opportunity to pursue real, hands-on experience, regardless of their country of origin,” Feldblum commented.

On November 3 2021, the appeal was argued, after an amicus brief was signed by the 151 US institutions, which WashTech originally tried to bar. The judges were “interested” in whether the union was “actually in fact in direct competition with OPT participants”, which the US government argued was not the case, due to the fact the program’s participants “frequently help create jobs”.

“We need to recognise that the United States is in a global competition for international students”

In summer 2021, there was also an argument from a US senator, Tom McClintock, who said that OPT “prevents US students from obtaining jobs” – for which he provided no evidence.

OPT has had issues in the past aside from the ongoing Washtech litigation. In 2017, a month-long investigation by ICE revealed that a total of 14 companies employed more than 5,500 students through the OPT program, which were found to be shell companies falsifying work documents for graduates. 

Despite this difficulty faced in recent years, the Presidents’ Alliance maintains this is a “victory”, and will help thousands of international graduates contribute to the American workforce. 

“We know this matters greatly to international students when they are looking to see where they want to pursue their education.

 “In turn, the talent and contributions of international students is crucial for the future of American higher education, innovation, and our nation’s economic growth,” Feldblum added.

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