Key Points
  • On November 30, 2020, a Washington, DC district court ruled that the OPT program is lawful
  • The ruling follows ongoing OPT litigation since 2014
  • The OPT program has been supported by the Department of Homeland Security and US universities
  • Plaintiffs’ claims that the OPT program is unlawful were rejected
  • The judge will issue a final ruling and explanation for his reasoning within 60 days
  • Existing OPT program rules remain in effect
Overview

On November 30, 2020, a district court in Washington, DC ruled that foreign students can remain in the US to work through the Department of Homeland Security’s Optional Practical Training (OPT) program after graduating.

What are the Changes?

The court concluded that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the legal authority to operate the OPT program. The federal judge granted summary judgment to DHS and rejected plaintiffs’ challenges to the OPT program. The ruling upholds the program’s validity, which has been challenged in courts since 2014. Plaintiffs, in this case, were the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, which filed a lawsuit against DHS claiming that the OPT program was unlawful and that DHS did not have authority to operate the program. Plaintiffs’ challenge to the OPT program was rejected without a full trial.

Background

The Optional Practical Training program permits foreign students to work in the US for a certain period of time after they graduate. The OPT program has been a primary incentive for foreign students to pursue higher education in the United States. The program has been essential for universities nationwide to attract foreign students, especially following a decline in international student enrollment nationwide during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Despite the program’s support, it has been the subject of litigation for six years. Opponents have argued that the program reduces job opportunities for US workers. A lawsuit was first filed in 2014 by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to operate the OPT program. In 2020, the Trump administration proposed a rule to change the program’s regulations and limit the training opportunities available for certain nonimmigrant students. Despite opposition to the program, the Department of Homeland Security and proponents of the OPT program have defended its legality.

Looking Ahead

The federal judge that issued the ruling on November 30th is expected to issue a final ruling in the next 60 days explaining his reasoning. Existing OPT program rules and regulations will remain in effect and unchanged until further notice.


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