According to the Open Doors Report on the International Educational Matters of the US, the country hosted more than 1 million international students in the 2019-2020 academic year. Even though Trump’s administration didn’t make it easy for immigrants, the US remained a hub for international students. Many people study in the US to land a job there and make a decent living. However, Trump was not ready to hand out jobs to the immigrants as he wanted to put American workers first. But now that Joe Biden has been elected the country’s president, OPT is no more under threat. OPT stands for Optional Practical Training, which allows international students to stay back in the country and work after completing their education. Reggie B. Walton, a US district judge, recently issued an opinion that upholds this popular OPT program.
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Reggie B. Walton in the US district judge for the US District Court of Columbia. He ruled in favour of the Department of Homeland Security, stating that they did not overstep their boundaries in expanding the OPT program. This ruling clashes directly with the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) views who look after the welfare of American Workers.
In the past, Wash Tech had filed two lawsuits against the DHS. While one was against the regular OPT training program (12 months), the other was against the 24 months OPT training program. WashTech took the help of the lawsuit they filed back in 2008 against 17 months OPT rule for STEM students. According to them, the DHS lacks any authority to maintain and create any post-completion OPT. Both the lawsuits were filed in the United States District Court of Columbia. According to District Judge Walton, the DHS didn’t exceed any statutory authority when it issued the OPT Program rule in 2016. Moreover, Judge Walton stated that the immigration rules are being continuously amended, and congress feels that the DHS’s actions are entirely reasonable.
About the OPT
There are mainly two kinds of OPT programs. The regular one allows international students to stay back for a year to work on their studies. The STEM OPT program allows international students to stay back for an additional two years. This is only for those who have completed their degree in science, technology, engineering, and Mathematics. OPT has gathered a considerable amount of support over the years as it acts as a foundation for several businesses related to the technological industry.
The National Association of Manufacturers, Information Technology Industry Council, as well as the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America – all these institutions are in favor of this program.
OPT has garnered a lot of criticism from Americans who supported Trump. Back in May 2020, four senators wrote to Trump about suspending guest worker programs. This included the international student who was on the program. They insisted that these visas should be suspended for at least a year or until the country’s unemployment level goes down. This was fuelled by the increase in unemployment levels due to the Covid-19 pandemic. People insisted that it is essential to suspend these visas to provide American workers with a job.
But these claims were met with severe opposition. Around 21 members of the congress were against this move and supported the program. They believed that the program helped the country ‘attract, engage and educate’ with the finest minds worldwide.
New Compliance unit not needed anymore
Under Donald Trump’s Administration, ICE announced that a new SEVP unit would be created to ensure OPT compliance. The unit would ensure that such programs will not harm American Workers or international students. This order was passed on the last few days of Trump’s Administration on 13th January 2021. However, as soon as Biden came to power, the ICE retracted back its statement stating that the compliance efforts were already happening and there is no need to establish a new unit.
Opinion about the ruling
Despite the WashTech being miffed at District Judge Reggie B. Walton’s ruling, it has been lauded as a positive move by many. Racheal Banks, who is the senior director for public policy and legislative strategy at NAFSA, said that Judge Walton’s decision would provide safety for the OPT program for the time being. According to her, it would boost international students’ confidence level when they choose to complete their education in the US and will act as a great supplement to the new administration that is tolerant towards international students. Banks believes that Biden’s Administration will not try to make any significant changes to the program, which will boost these students’ confidence level.
Miriam Feldblum, the executive director of the President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, shares a similar opinion about the ruling. She said that the ruling gives out a ‘strong, clear and coherent’ opinion that aims to implement and develop the two OPT programs. She said that it is in sync with the new administration, which has supported practical training.
What happened during Trump’s administration?
When Donald Trump was America’s President, the rules were not favorable towards international students. Trump wanted to make ‘America Great Again’ and seemed biased to the American Workers. Moreover, Homeland Security pulled up around 1100 international students’ OPT permits. Out of the 220,000 international students, around 1100 were accused of fraud, and their permits were to be suspended. OPT programs are encouraged so that international students can work in their field of study. These frauds were related because these international students were not following the rules and working in a different industry.
Moreover, 400 more permits were under threat, and it was said that the administration wouldn’t renew these. These announcements were a part of the ICE and DHS’s ‘OPTical Illusion’ Operation. According to them, the goal was to target only the nonimmigrant students and employers who were actively engaging in illegal activities.
However, the current ruling doesn’t promote fraudulent behaviour regarding OPT programs. It just aims to provide international students with a chance to work in the country without discrimination. Now that things are a bit easier for international students, one can only wait and watch what Biden’s administration brings in for them.