It has been ruled by a federal judge that the Department of Homeland Security must allow public comment on a rule regarding foreign nationals working in STEM fields that was adopted in 2008. The rule was an extension of a program called Optional Practical Training (OPT), which was introduced in 1947, and allowed students and recent graduates from foreign countries on student visas to work for up to a year in their chosen field. The 2008 rule allowed students in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to extend their visas for 17 months, but Judge Ellen Huvelle of the District of Columbia vacated it and is now staying the order until February 2016 to allow public comment and provide notice for those workers affected.
The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, which is an organization that represents US scientists working in STEM fields, filed suit about the rule in 2014, saying that the number of foreign nationals working on the student visas were taking jobs away from Americans. They claimed hiring foreign workers was less costly for the tech industry because they are exempted from various wage taxes, so Washington Alliance head John Miano said the ruling being vacated was a “big win for American workers”.
However, it should be noted that STEM jobs are in high demand – the growth rate in the past 10 years for jobs in STEM fields has been three times as fast as non-STEM fields, and that number is projected to rise by 17% by 2018. STEM workers, both foreign nationals and US citizens, play a key part in sustaining the stability of the US economy – it was estimated in 2010 that 7.6 million people in the US were STEM workers, which means that 1 person out of every 18 in the country was someone working in a STEM field.
Unfortunately despite this, vacating the 2008 ruling in the short term is going to come at a cost for both the tech industry and foreign nationals, because it will mean potentially thousands of young workers having to leave their jobs on short notice, requiring companies to fill those positions with new workers who may or may not have the skills of their predecessors. This may mean more time spent training new employees which slows productivity across the board.
If you are a foreign national who will be affected by the OPT extension being vacated or you know someone who will be affected and you’re looking for advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Lyttle Law Firm either via the website or by calling 215-512-5225.