Date June 23, 2021
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Brown joins second legal brief to urge continued practical training for international students

The future of Optional Practical Training, a long-standing federal program that enables temporary employment for international students at American colleges and universities, is at stake in a U.S. Court of Appeals case.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On Monday, June 21, Brown University joined 150 other colleges and universities across the nation in filing an amicus brief urging a federal court to preserve the ability for international students to complete practical training in the U.S. as a complement to their classroom studies.

Filed in a U.S. Court of Appeals case titled Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the amicus brief argues in support of the continued existence of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which enables graduate and undergraduate students with F-1 visa status to obtain temporary employment during their coursework or after graduation to gain practical training related to their fields of study.

“[OPT] is a longstanding government program that permits international students to continue, and deepen, their education by applying the skills and knowledge they learn in the classroom to a professional setting,” the brief argues. “OPT provides untold benefits for these international students. At the same time, and just as critical, the opportunities OPT facilitates for international students provide American institutions of higher education an edge in an increasingly competitive global education marketplace.”

“Without OPT,” it continues, “the education that international students will receive in the United States will be less robust, and the ability of American colleges and universities to attract and educate the best and brightest from around the world will diminish. The consequences of ending OPT for students, schools and the economy at large will be severe.”

The institutions that joined the amicus brief are members of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, which coordinated the brief along with NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Brown is a member of both organizations and in 2019 received NAFSA’s Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization in recognition of the University’s array of globally focused initiatives and programs.

In Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the court is considering whether to strike down both OPT and an expansion of the program called STEM OPT. The appellants filed the initial lawsuit more than a decade ago, arguing in part that Homeland Security does not have the authority to grant work authorization to F-1 students for OPT.

A federal district court judge ruled in favor of Homeland Security in November 2020, finding that the department has the legal authority to allow international students and graduates to work in the U.S. under OPT. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is now considering an appeal of this decision by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers. If the appeal were to succeed, both OPT and STEM OPT could end.

This amicus brief is the second Brown joined with the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, NAFSA and fellow higher education institutions arguing in support of OPT. A similar brief was filed in U.S. District Court in November 2019, before the court’s decision a year later.

Brown is home to more than 1,800 international students in its undergraduate, graduate and medical education programs, many of whom rely on OPT experiences as a complement to their academic work. The program grants international students with F-1 visa status the ability to gain up to 12 months of real-world work experience in their field of study, either during the academic coursework or after receiving their degrees, the amicus brief notes. Between 2004 and 2016, nearly 1.5 million international students and graduates of U.S. colleges and universities participated in the program.