U.S. businesses and universities defend STEM OPT in court

The legal threat to Optional Practical Training (OPT) in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields has returned. U.S. businesses and universities wasted no time defending the ability of international students to work up to 36 months in a STEM specialty on OPT, viewing it as vital to attracting students and retaining talent in America. Still, startups, larger technology companies and U.S. educators cannot be happy at another threat facing international education in the United States.

In an order on November 30, 2020, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled against WashTech (Washington Association of Technology Workers) in its lawsuit that sought to declare Optional Practical Training and STEM OPT (the regulation issued in 2016) unlawful. WashTech has appealed the final judgment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

In an opinion, issued January 28, 2021, Judge Walton wrote, “Not only does DHS [Department of Homeland Security] enjoy broad, delegated authority to enforce the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act] and issue rules governing nonimmigrants, but ‘DHS’s interpretation of F-1—inasmuch as it permits employment for training purposes without requiring ongoing school enrollment—is ‘longstanding’ and entitled to deference.’ ‘Since at least 1947, [the Immigration and Naturalization Service (‘INS’)] and DHS have interpreted the immigration laws to allow foreign students to engage in employment for practical training purposes.’”

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