Judge Invalidates Popular Foreign Student Work Program

A federal judge last week ruled that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must curtail a popular work training program that allows foreign students and graduates students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields to work while in the United States.

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) program allows students to work a total of 12 months during and after their studies and is usually highlighted by colleges as part of their work with international students, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

In 2008, DHS extended the work period to 29 months for those earning degrees in certain STEM fields, citing a shortage of highly skilled workers. The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, a union, sued the department, arguing that the move threatened to take jobs away from Americans.

Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia's decision last Wednesday invalidated the 17-month extension of the OPT program – stating that the department had not followed proper rulemaking procedures, such as providing a public comment period – but stayed the decision until February to give DHS time to submit the rules for the program for public comment. Judge Huvelle noted that vacating the 2008 rule would cause "substantial hardship" for thousands of international students who would have to leave the United States in short order, in addition to causing "major labor disruption" for technology-related industries.

Department officials declined to answer specific questions about the agency's plans for submitting a rule for public comment and the potential impact on international students who are taking advantage of the OPT STEM extension. "[U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is currently reviewing the ruling and cannot comment on the details of the decision," Sarah Rodriguez, a DHS spokeswoman, told Inside Higher Ed.

Last week's decision comes at a time when the Obama administration has signaled intentions to further "expand and extend" the use of the OPT program.


Related Links

The Chronicle of Higher Education


Inside Higher Ed