On June 21, over 150 colleges and universities across the US filed an amicus brief, demanding that the DC Court of Appeals preserve the Optional Practical Training Program. The Optional Practical Training Program allows international students to work in the US temporarily following their graduation to gain practical training related to the fields of study they are involved in.
Under the OPT programme, international students are granted F-1 visa status, enabling them to gain up to 12 months of work experience in their fields — during their academic coursework or after receiving their degrees. At least 1.5 million international students and graduates from colleges in the US were part of the programme between 2004 and 2016.
As per research by NAFSA: Association of International Educators, during 2019-2020, $38.7 billion had been contributed to the economy by international students. They supported approximately 415,000 jobs.
Another research by Business Roundtable noted that if the OPT programme was ended, there would be 255,000 fewer jobs held by workers born in the US.
In Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. US Department of Homeland Security, the court is still deciding whether to strike down both OPT and expand the program – STEM OPT.
The initial lawsuit was filed over a decade ago. The appellants argued that Homeland Security is not authorised to grant work authorisation to F-1 students for OPT.
In November 2020, a federal district court judge ruled in favour of Homeland Security. The court found that the department did have the legal authority to allow international students and graduates to work under OPT in the United States.
The DC Court of Appeals is now considering this appeal by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers. OPT and STEM OPT could end if the appeal succeeds.
“[OPT] is a longstanding government program that permits international students to continue, and deepens, their education by applying the skills and knowledge they learn in the classroom to a professional setting,” argued the colleges in a brief.
“OPT provides untold benefits for these international students. At the same time, and just as critical, the opportunities OPT facilitates for international students provide American institutions of higher education an edge in an increasingly competitive global education marketplace,” they added.
“Without OPT, the education that international students will receive in the United States will be less robust, and the ability of American colleges and universities to attract and educate the best and brightest from around the world will diminish. The consequences of ending OPT for students, schools and the economy at large will be severe,” the brief further stated.
The institutions that joined the amicus brief are members of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. This Alliance coordinated the brief along with NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
On July 13, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California, claimed that the OPT programme ends up taking away jobs from US graduates during a Congressional hearing. “Under the OPT program, employers don’t have to pay payroll taxes if they hire foreign nationals here on student visas for 29 months after graduation. If you know a college graduate who has a science, technical, engineering or mathematics degree who can’t find an entry level job, you need look no farther than this discriminatory program,” he said.
A massive amount of data on the Optional Practical Program was examined by Madeline Zavodny, an economics professor at the University of North Florida and a former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. However, she found that there were no unfavourable effects on US workers. “There is no evidence that foreign students participating in the OPT program reduce job opportunities for US workers,” she said in an interview with Forbes magazine.