The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has ended many years of litigation on the legality of the STEM OPT program. On October 2, 2023, SCOTUS refused to hear a challenge to the STEM OPT program.
This federal program is the Optional Practical Training (OPT) for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs. It provides foreign national graduates of U.S. universities an opportunity to stay and work in the United States. However, this program applies only to STEM-related fields and maxes out at three years.
This case argued whether the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) authority to issue work authorizations. Allegedly, the DHS lacked the authority to issue work authorizations under the OPT to F-1 visa holders. The plaintiffs also challenged the DHS’s authority to extend the program from its 12-month limit to 36.
However, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C.) disagreed and granted the defendants summary judgment. Later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit appealed this decision. The Appeals Court affirmed another ruling instead. According to the Appeals Court, the practical training for international students began over 70 years ago. This explanation revealed that Congress knew about the program and acquiesced to it several times.
Furthermore, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) grants the DHS the statutory authority to set the time and conditions of an F-1 student’s stay. This claim supports the legitimacy of the OPT program. The Appeals Court also pointed out how the OPT is highly regulated, ensuring the students’ work proves related to their studies.
As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the District Court. However, the technology worker’s union petitioned the Supreme Court for review in May 2023. This attempt was their last chance to revive the now-closed case. With its denial, the Court of Appeal’s decision remains adamant, ending the debate.
This decision is good news for employers of F-1 students through the OPT and STEM OPT programs. It means the future of these programs is now secure, especially for companies in STEM industries. With the program’s position secured, companies struggling to find enough skilled labor can continue hiring F-1 students to fill the gaps.
However, companies hiring foreign national workers must remember to comply with USCIS, INA, and other strict hiring regulations. One process that many employers find challenging is the employment eligibility verification (Form I-9) process, especially for those with temporary work visas.
One way to ensure continued compliance is through incorporating an electronic I-9 management system. This system guides HR personnel through every step. It also provides secure digital storage and reminders of when to take action.
Learn more about automating your employment eligibility verification and ensuring compliance with I-9Compliance.