The contours of a possible executive order began to come into clearer focus this week. Here’s some of what I’m hearing … with the caveat that given the lobbying tug-of-war, provisions are subject to change.
How could the EO affect OPT?
The so-called STEM extension could be rolled back. Put in place under the George W. Bush administration and expanded by President Obama, it allows students in STEM fields to work for up to three years post-graduation, rather than one year, as in the original OPT program. Also under consideration: adding academic qualifications for OPT, restricting participation to top students.
How does the administration define top students?
That’s unclear. It’s possible a GPA cut-off could be put in place, or that students would have to score in a certain percentile of their graduating class or academic program. It could also be institutionally based, with only students from top-ranked colleges allowed to take part. Additionally, it’s uncertain if such restrictions would be limited to STEM OPT or would be applied to OPT as a whole.
How quickly will the measure take effect?
The provisions of the April executive order, barring some green-card applicants, were implemented within just a few days. But when it comes to OPT, the new proclamation is expected to trigger a rulemaking process to change the regulations that govern the program.
Whew — so we have some time?
Yes, but. For one, given that this is an election year, the administration will almost certainly seek to expedite the normally pokey regulatory process. And while the executive order has been framed as temporary economic relief in response to covid-related job losses, a OPT rule change would be long-lasting and more difficult for opponents to undo.
Will the restrictions be retroactive?
It does not appear as if students currently on OPT or STEM OPT would be affected. When it comes to pending applicants, it’s more of a gray area.
What else is in the order besides OPT?
The measure would suspend the H-1B work visa, barring new holders from outside the country from coming to the U.S. Many H-1B applicants are former international students, but universities also rely on the H-1B to hire foreign-born researchers and academics. In addition, the suspension could affect J visa applicants. The J restrictions, however, seem focused on short-term cultural exchanges, not on scholars coming to the United States for academic exchange.