Date November 25, 2019
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Brown joins 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. District Court case.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On Monday, Nov. 25, Brown University joined more than 110 colleges and universities across the nation in filing a legal 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. District Court case titled Washington Alliance of Technology Workers Union 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 or after graduation to gain practical training related to their field 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. But, just as critical, being able to provide international students with the opportunities facilitated by OPT gives American institutions of higher education an edge in an increasingly competitive global education market.”

The institutions that served as signatories 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 earlier this year received NAFSA’s 2019 Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization in recognition of the University’s array of globally focused initiatives and programs.

Shankar Prasad, deputy provost for global engagement and strategic initiatives at Brown, said OPT represents a rare bipartisan consensus on the need to attract and educate the most talented students from across the globe. 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.

“International students and scholars are essential contributors to teaching and research at Brown, enriching our academic community through a wide variety of experiences, expertise and perspectives,” Prasad said. “Not only does OPT equip them with essential practical experience to complement what they learn in classrooms and laboratories across campus, it provides a strong financial foothold for international students seeking to build a solid economic foundation for their lives and careers. Ensuring the continued existence of OPT is vital to international students, to Brown and to American higher education as a whole.”

OPT 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 participated in the program. 

In Washington Alliance of Technology Workers Union 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 plaintiffs filed the lawsuit more than a decade ago, arguing that Homeland Security does not have the authority to grant work authorization to F-1 students for OPT. If the challenge succeeds, both OPT and STEM OPT could end.

Prasad said the University will continue to advocate for programs that support international students, who make a positive impact not only on campus but to the innovation, economic vitality and competitiveness of the country as a whole.