Have you heard about possible restrictions on the rights of international student workers to work in the United States after graduation? Access to Optional Practical Training (OPT) for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) grad workers is potentially in jeopardy. Read more below and click here if you are concerned about this issue and want to get involved in helping address this issue.

OPT is the program that provides temporary work authorization in the US for international graduates before other work authorization is obtained (such as a H1-B visa). On August 14 of 2015, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) received a court mandate to stop the post-completion 17-month STEM OPT extension by February 2016, which was established in 2008 in addition to the standard 12-month OPT for all international graduates that was previously available because the agencies had not followed the proper procedures when they began the extension. This could affect employment opportunities for thousands of STEM graduate workers and students at Columbia, and at universities across the country. Read more about this ruling at the National Law Review.

GWC, the Graduate Workers of Columbia, is watching this issue closely. In order to keep grad students updated on the unfolding situation and organize our collective push to get the U.S. government to act favorably on this decision, we will be holding an OPT Information Session and Q&A on Friday, September 18 from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. (417 International Affairs Building, food and drinks will be provided). An immigration lawyer will be present to answer your questions.

The situation is still developing, but as of now, many observers are hopeful that USCIS and DHS will seek to maintain the 17-month extension policy for STEM students. However, these agencies have only six months to reissue the policy (until February 2016); we need to push them to quickly reaffirm the 17-month OPT extension. This is especially urgent, given the typical delays in DHS activity.

Please spread the word widely so that your colleagues can stay informed and be involved in making our workplaces supportive for international students who earn degrees in the US.