By Suaida Firoze
Suaida Firoze is a senior at Clark University studying Economics and Business Management.
US colleges and universities have historically attracted large populations of international students. Apart from their interest in attending some of the best institutions in the world located here, many foreign students choose to pursue their educations in the US because of the numerous opportunities for receiving scholarships or financial aid to subsidize the cost of their education. According to NAFSA, as of 2014, the US hosts approximately 886,052 international students, who contribute $26.8 billion dollars to the economy and support almost 340,000 jobs. 
A high quality education, a world-renowned degree, and an opportunity to study outside of their home country are not the only reasons for which students from across the world decide to pursue their dreams in the US. Many of these students hope to receive job offers here after their graduation and eventually establish their roots in the “land of dreams.”
The process of becoming a permanent resident in the US, however, is highly competitive and uncertain. International students who aspire to become permanent residents commonly have an opportunity to work in American institutions by using the F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training) provision of their F-1 student visa. This temporary work permit allows international students to extend their stay in the country for up to one year after graduation as long as they are employed in a field that relates to their course of study.  Students that have STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) degrees are further allowed to extend their yearlong stay by up to 17 months through an OPT STEM Extension. At their jobs, it is up to their employers’ discretion as to whether or not they choose to sponsor students for an H1-B Visa which allows them to work for, usually, three more years. After going through many more steps if they successfully receive the H1B-Visa, which is awarded through a lottery process, the student may potentially be eligible to apply for a green card.  Although the process is lengthy and complicated, many have gone through it to successfully become US citizens. The American Dream does come true for some people, despite the numerous stumbling blocks.
Unfortunately, the US no longer accepts huge groups of immigrants who decide they want to live here. Even though it is a country that has developed on the strong foundations established by the first immigrants that built it to its present eminence, the US can no longer take in immigrants just based on their interest. The Department of Homeland Security first introduced the 17-month STEM extension under emergent circumstances in 2008. Had they not established this new opportunity, thousands of qualified foreign-born STEM employees would have left the U.S and consequently left those jobs unstaffed. On August 13, 2015, in the case of Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Washington Alliance sued the DHS iforn its decision to extend OPTs for STEM degree holders. The plaintiff claimed that the circumstances in 2008 were not emergent enough for the DHS to introduce the OPT STEM Extension, and therefore this opportunity should be discontinued. Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the US District Court in the District of Columbia, sided with the plaintiff and said that the DHS’ cause for this new regulation was not justified. She further said that the DHS was not able to prove that the situation was urgent enough to pass this regulation without carrying out the notice and comment requirement first. 
Given that revoking this regulation would cause significant problems to those that were currently employed under the STEM extension, Judge Huvelle stayed her ruling until February 12, 2016. The DHS has time until then to amend its doings and propose a new regulation. 
The passing of this ruling will cause significant damage to both the international students and the US economy. American corporations are known to hire highly qualified foreign graduates who prove to be exceptional in STEM fields. Meanwhile, out-of-state tuition fees paid by many international students contribute significantly to the institutions that they attend. If this rule passes, not only will international students face harsher limits on how long they can work in the US, but will also have to secure employment before graduation, since the 2008 regulation allowed international students to secure employment within sixty days after graduation.
International students throughout the U.S. have panicked due to this ruling. Securing employment is already extremely competitive and uncertain in the current system, and the decision will give international students an even narrower window to try their luck at working in the US.
After a period of silence on this issue, the DHS finally decided to take action. As stated by the National Law Review, “On October 19, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) issued the long awaited notice of proposed rulemaking to amend its F-1 nonimmigrant student visa regulations to allow for an extension of a student’s Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) period for an additional 24 months if the student has met the requirements.”  The new proposed program not only extends the STEM extension to 24 months, but also expands the definition of STEM to consist of a broader range of fields and include intensive mentoring and training.
However, this does not necessarily give international students peace of mind. They will not know until further notice whether this new proposal will pass through and whether it will follow through on all the initiatives it proposes. However, this does improve the situation slightly. Knowing that the US can still benefit from the skills international students gives the weavers of the American dream some consolation that all hope is not lost.
 NAFSA. "NAFSA International Student Economic Value Tool." NAFSA. Accessed October 21,
 "Practical Training." Practical Training. Accessed October 21, 2015. http://www.ice.gov/sevis/practical-training.
 US Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Green Card through a Job Offer." USCIS. Accessed October 22, 2015. http://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-through-job/green-card-through-job-offer.
 "Federal Court Decision on F-1 Work Authorization Poses Massive Headaches for Employers Unless USCIS Implements A New Rule In The Next 6 Months." The National Law Review. August 14, 2015. Accessed October 22, 2015. http://www.natlawreview.com/article/federal-court-decision-f-1-work-authorization-poses-massive-headaches-employers-unle.
 "Summary: Notice of Proposed Rule for STEM OPT Extension." The National Law Review. October 20, 2015. Accessed October 22, 2015. http://www.natlawreview.com/article/summary-notice-proposed-rule-stem-opt-extension.
Photo Credit: Flickr User Dru Kelly
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