Georgetown urges continuation of program allowing international students to work

Georgetown recently joined 117 other colleges and universities in filing an amicus brief supporting temporary employment authorization for international students, a practice that would be eliminated if a challenge in a U.S. District Court succeeds. At stake is the long-standing immigration program called Optional Practical Training (OPT), as well as its more recent expansion, STEM-OPT.

The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech), a West Coast labor union, filed suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia more than two years ago, arguing that the department doesn’t have the authority to grant work authorization to students with an F-1 visa. The universities, organized through the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and NAFSA: Association of International Educators, contend that allowing international students the opportunity to gain practical experience in their field while still in the United States is crucial.

OPT at stake

The federal government since the 1950s has allowed international students to pursue practical training, and hundreds of thousands of international students and graduates take part in OPT each year. About 1.5 million students participated in OPT between 2004 and 2016. The program lets international students stay for up to one year post-graduation, or up to three years for STEM fields.

International students—who account for about 5.5 percent of the nation’s total higher education enrollment—contributed $39 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2017-2018 academic year, according to The Presidents’ Alliance and NAFSA.

Amicus brief notes OPT’s educational, recruitment benefits

In their amicus brief, the 118 colleges and universities note that OPT not only enriches the quality of international students’ education but also helps U.S. institutions attract international students. The brief cautions that, without OPT, “the education that international students will receive in the United States will be less robust, and the ability of American colleges and universities to attract and educate the best and brightest from around the world will diminish.”

“Even our best students can only learn so much from the classroom; they must then test and further these lessons in the real world,” Victor Cha, vice dean of faculty and graduate affairs at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, is quoted as saying in the brief. “The opportunity to undertake internships, employment, or research is critical to their development as future leaders in a more globalized world community for generations forward.”

“In an increasingly competitive global higher education landscape, OPT is a signature strength of the United States,” notes Thomas Banchoff, Georgetown University’s vice president for global engagement in the brief. “The opportunity to combine formal education with work experience is a magnet for talented students from abroad.”

Meanwhile, 50 large technology companies also have filed a separate amicus brief in support of OPT, Fortune reports. In the brief, companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, and Intel assert that there’s an ongoing dearth of STEM-trained workers in the United States and that “OPT and STEM OPT programs are critical to addressing that deficit.”

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