Back in 2008, Optional Practical Training (OPT) was extended from 12 to 29 months for STEM students but a ruling by a court last week puts this extension in jeopardy. OPT is available to students on F-1 visas who have graduated or have been working towards a degree for nine months. OPT allows students to gain a practical working experience that is related to their field of study. The OPT extension is only for students in STEM (science, technology, engineering or math).
Last week a court ruled that this extension was invalid because the government failed to seek public comment before extending the OPT period. The court decided not to outright declare the OPT extension invalid but instead gave the government six months to cure the problem and submit the extension for public comment.
Fortunately this means the problem could be fixed in six months, but if the court isn’t satisfied upon further review it could mean that students working on OPT may be forced to terminate their employment and leave the US.
Although the OPT extension program requires public comment as of now, the extension period is still valid up until February 12, 2016, the court given expiration date. Also, F-1 students may still apply for an OPT extension and be granted the extension until the six months has run.
The OPT extension is important to many students as US schools enrolls hundreds of thousands of international students each year. According to the Institute of International Education over 800,000 international students were enrolled during the 2013-2014 school year. This represents an 8% growth from the previous year and puts international student enrollment at an all time high. The highest percentage of international students is from China, and the second highest percentage is from India.
Ending the OPT extension program would be a disservice to the many students who benefit from the program and the US economy that benefits from the skills brought into the workplace. OPT allows foreign students to exercise and hone the skills learned in school in a practical workplace environment. The US economy benefits by bringing in specialized skills to the workplace and bettering US companies.
The most popular majors among international students are engineering, math, computer science and business. Foreign students are studying areas that US companies need to advance. Engineering and computer skills bring innovation, product creation and efficiency into the workplace. The OPT extension program allows these skilled graduates to better US companies and create successful products and which can lead to job creation and high sales. As the program stands it ensures graduates can bring these important skills into the workplace, hopefully foreign students and the US can continue to benefit from this program.