(L-R) Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Apple CEO Tim Cook are among the corporate leaders defending the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme with FWD.us. Source: AFP

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme is being supported by close to 60 US companies and trade associations, led by bipartisan political organisation FWD.us. Together, they have filed an amicus brief to this effect in a long-running court case challenging the OPT. These companies include Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, and LinkedIn, each of which hires foreign graduates every year.

OPT is a graduate work programme that allows international students to build a career in the US right after completing their degree. Under this programme, international students who graduate from a US university may work in the country for 12 months — plus an extra 24 months if they are in STEM fields. Though challenged by anti-immigration rhetoric and policies during the Trump administration, American organisations and employers have defended its value to the American job market.

“Graduates of American colleges and universities should be able to stay in the US to develop and contribute their skills here, rather than taking them to other countries to compete against us,” said FWD.us President Todd Schulte. “But our outdated immigration system makes it incredibly difficult for them to stay in the US after graduation, and for employers to hire them.”

FWD.us finds the OPT “critical to retaining top talent and keeping the US globally competitive”, acknowledging the value of foreign students to the American economy and nation. “Ensuring that talented international graduates can put their US education to use right here will help to create new jobs, raise wages for US-born workers, and contribute enormously to growing our economy,” Schulte added.


The OPT  is “critical to retaining top talent and keeping the US globally competitive.” Source: Kena Betancur/AFP

Third OPT court decision now being appealed

In 2020, The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the aim to have the court declare the OPT unlawful. Its argument? That the DHS could not legally create or maintain any kind of post-completion OPT. This motion was denied in December 2020.

After the judgment was passed, experts expressed confidence that the OPT would be here to stay. “The one programme that is likely to get strong support under Biden is students, so OPT, including the Obama STEM extension, which was under constant threat during the Trump administration, is now safe,” Jeffrey Gorsky, senior counsel at Berry Appleman & Leiden and a former State Department attorney, told Forbes.

WashTech had previously filed similar lawsuits in 2014 and 2016; both times, the judge ruled in favour of the OPT. After the motion was denied once again in December, it is now being raised in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. It is hoped that this new amicus brief sufficiently conveys not just the importance of international graduates, but the role of the graduate work programme in sharpening their skills — particularly in STEM.

According to FWD.us, over one million international students in US institutions contributed 38.7 billion US dollars and supported 415,996 jobs in the American economy during the 2019-20 academic year.