World

Bid to halt OPT program for international students stemmed by US district court

MUMBAI: An association of American STEM workers have not been successful in their attempt to halt the Optional Practical Training Program (OPT), which is available to international students, post their studies.
While the full opinion is yet to be issued by Judge Reggie B Walton, of the district court of Columbia, the judge has ‘denied the plaintiffs motion to strike’.
Under a 1992 regulation, the OPT program enables international students on F-1 (academic study visas) to work for one year in the US, post their studies. Subsequently, a regulation introduced in 2016, enabled STEM students (those in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics field of study) to get a further OPT extension of up to 24 months. In other words, the OPT tenure available to them is three years.
As per a recently issued Open Doors Report, for the year 2019-20, nearly 18% of the total contingent of international students (or 1.93 lakh) were from India. 81,173 were engaged in the OPT program.
With this decision, international students can breathe easy. Cyrus Metha, founder of a New York-based immigration law firm told TOI, “The decision is great news for international students as they can look forward to getting permission to engage in practical training in the US after they complete their studies. It is also good for American universities as they can continue to compete with universities in other countries to attract the best students.”
“Obtaining practical training after successfully graduating from a US university can nicely round off a stellar education, and provide the student a foray into a career, which in turn can benefit the US or the home country or both,” he added.
The origins of this lawsuit date back to 2014, when the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers Union (Wash Tech) sued the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which enforces immigration laws.
Their petition was dismissed in 2016 and Wash Tech appealed. Later, a portion of the lawsuit that dealt with DHS’s lack of authority to set up the OPT program was sustained and the matter was taken up for hearing. This issue has now been disposed of. It is not known at this juncture whether an appeal will be filed.
TOI had covered this matter in its edition of July 16, 2019.
Three associations, viz: the National Association of Manufacturers; the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI Council) had intervened to argue the case on behalf of the students. An amicus brief was also filed by 118 public and private universities and colleagues to defend the OPT program.
Todd Schulte, President at FWD.US, a US-based non-profit whose founders include Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others has tweeted, “This is a very very big deal and very good news for America…bad news for the folks trying to slash legal immigration avenues to the US and hurt America’s global competitiveness.”

Mehta explained the legal nitty-gritty, “Although the court has yet to issue the full opinion, it appears to have recognised the inherent ability of the US government to grant work authorisation to foreign nationals even if not specifically stated in the Immigration and Nationality Act.”
“The US government has been granting practical training to foreign students for well over 70 years. The US Congress has also been aware of this practice, and there is a legal doctrine established by the US Supreme Court in Lorillard v. Pons holding that if Congress was aware of a certain interpretation involving the extension of student status through practical training and did not change it when it next amended the law, Congress must have impliedly recognized it,” he added.

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