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Work program that benefit international students in the US under threat: learn more about OPT and its future

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Recent efforts to end the OPT program have been discussed in the media since last year. Actions promoted by entities and congress people contrary to the existence of the program worry foreign students throughout the country.

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) offers an automatic work permit for foreigners with a F-1 visa who complete an undergraduate or graduate program in American colleges, allowing students to work for up to 12 months during or after the conclusion of their courses. In the STEM area (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) the work permit can be extended for another 24 months.

Recently, a Republican congressist joined forces against the OPT by presenting the Fairness for High-Skilled Americans Act bill, which aims to eliminate the program on the grounds that it harms employment prospects for Americans working in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Last year, a technology workers’ union called WashTech also filed a lawsuit in the US District Court, claiming that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) exceeded its regulatory authority when it established OPT, arguing that it was a program of large-scale foreign workers without congressional approval.

In defense of the program, North American universities say that OPT is determinant both for the ability of educational institutions in the country to attract international students and for the quality of education that these students can obtain.

Data from the 2019 Open Doors report confirm the importance of the program to the country. In 2018/2019 alone, 223,085 students benefited from OPT when it was time to obtain practical work experience after graduation. This number is 9.7% higher than in 2017.

OPT is frequently used as a way into the H-1B visa, the temporary work visa for jobs that require specialized skills. US employers often hire workers via OPT as they attempt to transition to the H-1B visa — a category that has a specific quota for college graduates in the United States.

Pedro Drumond, lawyer and partner of Drummond Advisors, points out “The end of OPT would be catastrophic for foreign students, US universities and the job market in general. Brazilian students, for example, would have enormous difficulty placing themselves on the American market after completing courses in the USA, as OPT serves as an immediate job opportunity, in which the student shows service to the employer and applies for a visa in the future. With the cancellation of the program, companies would lose thousands of employees and the channels for new talent would be narrowed”.

Even with the advancement of policies that negatively affect the immigration process, the USA remains one of the most sought-after destinations for international students. In the 2018/2019 academic year, the country reached a historical record, receiving a total of 1,095,299 international students. “American universities are among the best in the world. There is no doubt that it is worth investing in studies in that country,” said Pedro.

Do you intend to study abroad? Contact a specialist immigration lawyer and learn how to make the most of this experience.