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DHS requests 90 additional days to revise OPT STEM extensions

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The Obama administration is asking for an additional 90 more days to revise a program designed to allow international students to work at the completion of their studies, while maintaining their F1 student status. The program is called optional practical training period and the OPT program has been under attack in federal court. Now, the Department of Homeland Security is asking for additional time to comply with a prior court order.

At issue is a 2008 rule on optional practical training that U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle  vacated in finding that DHS did not follow proper procedure in changing the OPT program. The government says that it is trying to avoid substantial hardship for thousands of international students and their employers. It is unclear at this point as to what will happen to the students currently working on the apparently flawed program.

The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers has challenged the legality of the 2008 rule, which increased the OPT period by 17 months for foreign students with certain STEM majors (science, technology, engineering and math), claiming that the program is a default guest worker program. In August of 2015, Judge Huvelle vacated the rule, after concluding that the government failed to provide notice and comment to affected parties and that DHS had failed to demonstrate that an emergency situation existed.

That decision was stayed by the judge until mid-February 2016 to allow the government to promulgate a new rule through the proper procedures. DHS issued a new proposed rule last October that would boost the OPT extension for STEM graduates from 17 months to 24 months. This would allow STEM students to work for up to three years and, more importantly, go through the H1b visa lottery on several occasions.

We will keep you updated as to what Judge Huvelle decides to do with the extension request.


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