Federal Court Upholds OPT Program

On Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, a U.S. federal district court judge overturned a lawsuit filed by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) seeking to shut down the OPT (Optional Practical Training) program. WashTech originally filed the suit against the Department of Homeland Security in 2014, arguing that the program was unlawfully implemented and reduced employment opportunities for U.S. citizens.

Judge Reggie B. Walton gave his ruling without an immediate explanation, but he promised a written decision elaborating his reasoning within the next 60 days. He did, however, comment that “OPT benefits the American educational system, as well as the U.S. economy as a whole. By providing term employment to highly skilled recent graduates, OPT ensures that this talent pool grows the American economy, providing benefits to all workers in the United States.”

The OPT program authorizes F-1 international student visa holders to remain in the U.S. for a designated period of time after graduation to work in their field of study. OPT is often the first step on the path to securing an H-1B visa. In FY2019, USCIS approved more than 223,000 OPT applications.

After the lawsuit was filed in 2019, three trade associations made known their sentiments that overall, the OPT program is beneficial for international students and the U.S. workforce at large. Since then, major tech companies including Google, Apple, Uber, Facebook, and Tesla have joined the fight to keep the program alive. These organizations argue that the OPT program sparks economic growth and can help expand job opportunities for U.S. workers.

The judge’s order is not final until the court issues its written decision. WashTech’s lawyer, John Milano, has stated that the organization plans to appeal the decision after the final order is released.

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