Federal case aiming to halt international students from post-graduation work met with discontent at UMN

Many University of Minnesota students say they are upset with the proposed changes to the Optional Practical Training program.

Morgan La Casse

Morgan La Casse

by Jiang Li

A federal court case is seeking to disband a work training program for graduated international students, prompting many in the University of Minnesota community to fight back.

The Optional Practical Training program is part of a U.S. F-1 visa employment regulation that permits students to do work in a field directly related to their major for 12 months after completing their degree, according to the Immigration Response Team Director Marissa Hill-Dongre.

On July 1, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia allowed a decade-old case to further proceed, challenging the legality of the OPT program. The court is accepting amicus curiae briefs until Oct. 25, meaning parties can submit their perspectives about the OPT program in efforts to influence the court’s decision, according to the Association of International Educators.

In response to the program’s potential termination, the University’s IRT and International Student and Scholar Services gathered perspectives from a number of University members to submit to the federal court, including ISSS staff who recruit international students worldwide and career counselors who help students connect with work in their field following graduation.

“I think it is really important that the court hears the perspectives not just of the federal government but about the people whose lives are directly impacted,” Hill-Dongre said.

In addition to the 12-month OPT program, the case’s outcome could affect the STEM OPT extension, which grants graduates 24 months of temporary training. 

Hill-Dongre said that there are some people who think students abuse the OPT program by working positions outside of their field of study.

“There are benefits not just to individual students but also to the U.S. job markets and to the communities where these students live and work,” Hill-Dongre said.

ISSS and IRT reached out to international students currently using the OPT program and sent out emails to graduates asking about the program’s value and impact if it were discontinued.

University graduate Da Song, who is now a full-time software engineer at Minneapolis-based Anser Innovation LLC, said he has his current position thanks to the OPT program.

“[The] OPT program is a really good program … it helps me a lot,” Song said. “It gives me a chance of getting legal working identity pretty easy. OPT program simplifies the process to recruit international students. If we don’t have that policy, it will be really hard for international students to find their first job.”

Song said he has already applied for the two-year STEM OPT extension.

Hill-Dongre said many students who shared stories about their experiences with the OPT program said it laid the foundation for their careers and provided them with more options going forward. Many also said the OPT program played a large role in their decision to study in the U.S. rather than other countries.

Maggie Tomas, the director of the graduate business career center at the Carlson School of Management, said she does not know of many companies that want to cancel the OPT program.

“Companies are usually very pleased with the qualities of our international students,” Tomas said. “They are really smart. They have high test scores. They typically speak multiple languages, and they have experience working not only here in the U.S., but back in their home country, so they come with a more global mindset.”

Tomas said it is not fair that international students often do not have as many job opportunities as domestic students, because many companies are hesitant to sponsor international students for their work visas. 

“International students tend to be very loyal to a company that is willing to go out on a limb and hire them and sponsor them,” Tomas said.