Will There Be Changes to Optional Practical Training?

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Changes announced last fall to Optional Practical Training, also known as OPT, may finally be happening. Read more.

Last fall, President Barack Obama announced his executive actions on immigration, including changes to Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study. This is open to F-1 students to gain professional experience in the field.

Currently, OPT lets international students work for 12 months after graduation with an option for an additional 17-month extension for those with a degree in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering and math). The new proposal would extend the OPT STEM extension from 17 months to 24 months and let students take the extension twice post-graduation, instead of just once. In total, a student could  be on OPT for six years. That is the same length of time as an H-1B working visa.

–>Click: Read our previous article about President Obama’s plans for immigration reform.

Apparently, the department is finally moving forward with these changes according to a letter sent on June 8, 2015 by Chuck Grassley, a senator from the state of Iowa who is also the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is against the changes to OPT and discussed why in his letter. We pulled some quotes from his letter below:

Image courtesy of www.grassley.senate.gov
Image courtesy of www.grassley.senate.gov

“I’m concerned about the Department’s plans to expand the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, and urge you to reconsider expanding the program without adding adequate controls and safeguards.” 

“I understand, based on the May 28 briefing,[highlight] that the Department is moving forward with new regulations on OPT—[/highlight]

(1)    allowing foreign students with degrees in STEM fields to receive up to two 24-month extensions beyond the original 12-month period provided under OPT regulations, for a total of up to six years of post-graduation employment in student status; and
(2)    authorizing foreign graduates of non-STEM U.S. degree programs to receive the 24-month extension of the OPT period, even if the STEM degree upon which the extension is based is an earlier degree and not for the program from which the student is currently graduating (e.g. student has a bachelor’s in chemistry and is graduating from an M.B.A. program).

The proposed new regulations, while still being internally discussed, are irresponsible and dangerous considering the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued in March 2014 finding that the program was full of inefficiencies, susceptible to fraud, and that the Department was not adequately overseeing it.”

“OPT is meant to be a temporary training program, not as a bridge to a longer-term work visa or a way for employers to hire cheaper foreign labor in lieu of Americans or foreign workers in visa programs with prevailing wage requirements.”

Senator Grassley also shared problems with the current way OPT operates:

“The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found numerous problems with the OPT program.  Their report found that foreign students, sometimes with help of designated school officials, were abusing the program to acquire unauthorized work.  It also found that the Department was not adequately overseeing the program and did not have adequate monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure program compliance.  In fact, it found that the Department was not tracking vital information that was necessary to ensure schools and students were following ICE regulations, such as accruing too much unemployment, completing the program within a certain amount of time, or ensuring students were engaging in work that was in their field of study.”  

[button link=”http://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/news-releases/grassley-concerned-proposal-expand-employment-benefits-foreign-students-enrolled” size=”large” style=”note” color=”teal”]Read Senator Grassley’s full letter here[/button]

[button link=”http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-356″ size=”large” style=”note” color=”teal”]Read the full GAO report regarding its findings on OPT[/button]

So, does this mean the changes to the OPT STEM extension will happen?

According Inside Higher Ed, a statement from a spokesperson for Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stated no further details could be shared.

“ICE is in the midst of drafting proposed rules for notice and public comment regarding foreign students with degrees in STEM fields from U.S. universities. Due to rule-making requirements, we cannot discuss the content of that proposed rule at this time,” the statement said.

“In response to a 2014 GAO report, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has already deployed various tools to better monitor students’ participation in what is known as optional practical training (OPT),” the statement said.

Keep checking back, the team at International Student Voice Magazine will keep you updated with any new details.


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