STEM Students and the OPT Program at Risk
April 19th, 2016 by Lette Berhe
In August 2015, the US federal court ruled against the validity of the US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) 2008 regulation update for the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. However, the court gave the DHS until February 10, 2016, to begin the implementation of necessary changes. In January 2016, the court extended the date for implementation until May 10, 2016. What does this really mean for internationals students? Let’s break it down.
What is Optional Practical Training?
Optional Practical Training, or OPT as it is commonly referred to, is a program that was created to provide international students with the opportunity to extend their visas to gain 1 year of US work experience in a professional setting that is directly related to their field of study. This work experience can be achieved either while they are completing their studies or post graduation.
The DHS is the US department which oversees US immigration and back in 2008 they changed certain regulations regarding the OPT program, which they have stated were necessary due to the economic crises that was occurring at the time. However, in August 2015 the US court ruled that the DHS did not satisfy the necessary requirements nor follow the proper procedures for such regulations to be put in place. This means that the OPT program could potentially return to its pre-2008 status if the DHS does not resubmit their updates following the correct procedure. This is the basic idea, but how does it affect so many students?
The 2008 regulations that are now being put at risk are the following:
- Students could request to extend their OPT authorization period from the previous 12 months maximum to a new maximum of 29 months.
- The ability to have a limit of 60 days after graduation to apply for the OPT program. Whereas, previously students had to apply prior to graduating.
- Students with an F-1 visa were exempt from the H-1B work visa ¨cap¨ which could potentially prevent them from finding employment.
The changes mentioned above were put in place for students who had an F-1 visa and who were enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. With the current court ruling, all those who have found employment or found employees through the OPT program are now in a sort of limbo. The court has given the DHS time to update and resubmit these regulations, but if they are unable to get them approved by the deadline it is not clear what it means for the employers and international students that are already involved. It raises the question regarding the students’ eligibility to be in the country and to be employed. Will they be overstaying their visa? Will they be unable to receive an income and be forced to work as volunteers? Will these new changes prevent employers from hiring OPT students in the future? Hopes are that by the new May 10th deadline the worries of everyone involved and those affected will be put to rest.
For more information regarding working in the US, check out our section on Working on an F-1 Visa.