US set to tighten work norms for international students | Nov 22, 2019, 06.04 AM IST Printed from NEW DELHI: The Trump administration is set to tighten norms from next year for optional practical training (OPT), a programme used by international students to work in the US for one year after completing their degree course. Students from the science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) stream can opt for a two-year extension, which gives them a cumulative three-year work experience under OPT. The pendulum seems to have swung in favour of antiimmigration groups, who hold that OPT students provide cheap labour and take away American jobs.

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The fall agenda of the US government rolled out recently states: “US Immigration and Customs Enforcement will amend existing regulations and revise practical training options available to nonimmigrant students on F and M visas.” F-visa is for those undertaking academic studies (working towards a degree), whereas M-visa is issued to vocational training students.

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Proposed norms seen as another bid to rein in OPT programme US Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the governing agency for the optional practical training (OPT) programme. “The forthcoming proposal, which has an anticipated publication date of August 2020, is expected to seek restrictions on the OPT currently available to international students,” says Mitchell Wexler, partner at Fragomen, a global immigration law firm. TOI had reported in its edition of October 16 that ICE had issued a new guidance requiring ‘designated school officials’ (DSOs) to confirm that graduate students are employed during their training in positions related to their major area of study.

The fall agenda does not give details, but the proposed regulation could define strict conditions for grant of an OPT. “It is not possible to state at this juncture whether the tenure of an OPT will be curtailed,” says an education expert. ICE officials have recently begun surveys of work sites where STEM OPT students are deployed. The fall agenda is being viewed as yet another attempt to rein in the OPT programme. It takes several months from the publication of a proposal for a new regulation to be rolled out, as there is an open window of up to 60 days for public comments, which are reviewed, and a final draft sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

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This unit takes several weeks to months for the review, post which, the final amended regulation is posted in the Federal Register with a date from which it would come into effect. If the timeline of August 2020 is maintained for publishing the proposal outlined in the fall agenda, students who are likely to opt for OPT in the second half of 2021 and beyond, would be impacted by the new proposals, say immigration experts. As per the Open Doors survey released a few days ago, currently, there are 2.02 lakh Indian students in the US, of which 34.2% (or 69,000 odd are in engineering) and 37% (74,745) are in maths and computer science streams. On another front, the OPT programme is also facing litigation.

TOI, in its July 16 edition, had reported on the lawsuit filed by Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (Wash-Tech), a group representing American STEM workers. They are contesting that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) exceeded its authority by introducing the OPT programme. On November 8 (which is designated as National STEM Day in US), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which is viewed as a proprotectionist think tank, filed an amicus brief in support of WashTech.

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