International Student Work Program to Remain, After Litigation Ends

The Supreme Court decided not to hear a case that sought to end the Optional Practical Training program.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on October 4, 2023
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  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) will remain intact following a legal challenge by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers.
  • OPT allows international students to gain work experience while on a student visa.
  • The program has been the subject of litigation that sought to end OPT in the U.S.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court, however, decided not to hear an appeals case.

Optional Practical Training (OPT), a program allowing international students to gain work experience while in the U.S., will remain intact after years of litigation comes to an end

The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeals case that sought to end OPT, ending litigation stretching back to 2014. An appeals court upheld the decision that OPT is lawful, so the Supreme Court's decision not to hear a further appeal means that OPT will be allowed to continue as is.

OPT allows college students on an F-1 student visa to gain work experience while studying in the U.S.

There is also an OPT option for recent graduates that allows them to remain in the U.S. for one year after graduation to work in the country. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates can work in the U.S. for up to three years through the post-graduation OPT program.

Opponents of OPT claimed the program was unlawful and that OPT beneficiaries occupy jobs and internships that would otherwise go to U.S. citizens. The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in March 2014 in an attempt to end the program, but the Supreme Court's decision finally put an end to the nearly 10-year lawsuit.

The Washington Alliance took issue with DHS expanding the post-graduation OPT window from 12 months to 36 months for STEM graduates.

Proponents of OPT, meanwhile, say OPT is a powerful recruiting tool for U.S. universities hoping to draw international students. Many other countries offer similar or better work opportunities for international students.

"The Supreme Court's decision to not take up the WashTech case against [OPT] is an important victory for U.S. higher education and has far-ranging implications for U.S. competitiveness in the global economy," Fanta Aw, executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, said in a statement.

"Amid an increasingly competitive global education market, we cannot afford to lose this time-tested tool for drawing the world's best and brightest to our classrooms, campuses, and communities."

According to the latest Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education, there were nearly 185,000 people in the U.S. through the OPT program during the 2021-22 academic year. That's down from a peak of 223,500 OPT beneficiaries in the 2019-20 school year.