Federal District Court Judge Rules OPT Program is Lawful

December 1, 2020 Sara Herbek

Key Points

  • On November 30, 2020, a District Court for the District of Columbia 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 U.S. 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 U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that foreign students can remain in the U.S. 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 legal authority to operate the OPT program. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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

Following the ruling on November 30th, Judge Walton 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.   


Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Sara Herbek, who is the Managing Partner at Global Immigration Associates, P.C. (www.giafirm.com), Envoy’s affiliated law firm.

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an Envoy-affiliated attorney or another qualified professional.

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