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Expert: Trump Likely to Seek 'Political Cover' in OPT Controversy

May 30, 2020 (2 min read)

Elizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Ed, May 29, 2020

"Advocates for international students are raising alarm bells about a possible Trump administration plan to curtail a popular program that lets international students work in the U.S. for up to three years after graduating college. The advocates say restrictions on the program could have far-reaching economic implications for the American labor market and for colleges that recruit international students and rely on the revenues they bring in.

An estimated 223,085 international students participated in optional practical training, or OPT, in the 2018-19 academic year, and participation in OPT has surged in recent years.


“It’s an essential part of the package of benefits that we offer to international students who come to the United States,” said Brad Farnsworth, vice president for global engagement for the American Council on Education. ACE joined with nine other higher education associations in sending a letter to the White House last week requesting a meeting to discuss the OPT program.

... The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Trump administration is considering placing temporary restrictions on OPT, which allows international students in STEM fields to work for a U.S. employer for up to three years after they graduate and students in all other fields to work for one year, all while staying on their student visas. It’s not clear what the restrictions may look like -- various options are reportedly under consideration -- but Trump administration officials said they're designed to help American graduates looking for entry-level work during the economic downturn.

... Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration practice at Cornell University, said the Trump administration could take a number of actions in relation to OPT, ranging from introducing a proposed rule -- a lengthy process that entails a public notice and comment period -- to issuing an executive order immediately terminating or suspending the program, an action that would likely be immediately challenged in court. A middle option, he said, would be to temporarily modify the rules governing OPT in light of last week's executive order giving agency heads broad discretion to set aside or revise rules deemed to inhibit economic recovery -- an action that Yale-Loehr said also would likely be challenged in court.

“I personally think that the president is likely to go the first option of instructing the Department of Homeland Security to start rule making, because I think he’s getting a lot of pushback from companies that rely on OPT,” Yale-Loehr said. “A proposed rule would give him political cover while not actually suspending the OPT program.” "