In a way this makes sense. OPT was always a bit of an odd fit for the executive order — although the program allows recent graduates to work, there is no “OPT visa” so the fix was never the same as for the rest. And because OPT is in regulation, it couldn’t be unilaterally undone by presidential proclamation.
But new rules can supplant old, and the administration appears to be working on draft regulations that would roll back STEM OPT, which allows STEM graduates to work for up to three years after graduation. Paul Hughes, co-director of the Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic at Yale, told a recent webinar organized by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration that officials could try to enact the rule as a interim final regulation to bypass the normal comment process and put it in effect immediately.
Many students remain on edge. “I want to be relieved,” one student told me, “but you never know what could be coming.”
Although OPT was, at least momentarily, spared, higher ed was far from unscathed by the executive order. The measure suspended H1-B skilled employment visas, which universities use to hire top academics and researchers, regardless of nationality, and which are a powerful recruitment tool for international students. Expecting a new foreign-national faculty member to start teaching this fall? If the professor isn’t now in the U.S. or doesn’t already have a valid visa, your college may be out of luck. (The order also suspended some J-1 exchange visas, but researchers and scholars, such as Fulbrighters, are not affected.)
While the executive order grabbed headlines, it doesn’t take a presidential proclamation to disrupt student mobility. Consider a few outstanding issues that could affect international students’ ability to study in the U.S. this fall:
It’s unclear whether the Department of Homeland Security will relax restrictions on international students enrolling in online and distance education. Officials allowed for flexibility this spring, but the current guidance extends only through summer. One question I hear a lot: What happens to international students who stayed in the U.S. if most, but not all, of a college’s classes remain online?
Globally, many U.S. consulates are still closed. Some are scheduling visa appointments that turn out to be phantoms, canceled as the date draws near. Without an expedited process for approving student visas, new international students simply may not be able to get the proper documents in time for fall. Additional wrinkles: country-by-country travel bans and limited international flights.
Back to OPT, the agency that issues work authorizations is running out of money. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is largely supported by fees on visa and citizenship applications, could be forced to furlough three-quarters of its employees without congressional intervention.
What other outstanding student-visa issues are you keeping an eye on? Do you have other ideas for other issues I should be covering? I welcome your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.