The Wall Street Journal confirmed
Saturday morning what had been anticipated: That optional practical training, the work program for international graduates, is expected to be among new visa and immigration restrictions imposed by the Trump administration.
This isn’t a huge surprise. After all, the acting homeland security secretary said a couple of weeks ago that his department was “teeing up
” recommendations to limit OPT. The administration has argued that curtailing OPT, along with other skilled-worker programs like H-1B, is needed to preserve jobs for Americans during the coronavirus-related economic downturn.
The new package of visa restrictions could be issued in the “next few weeks,” the WSJ said. The current executive order expires June 22.
So that’s what we know. Now for the known unknowns, in Donald Rumsfeld’s parlance, the things we know that we don’t know — and that we wish we knew the answers to.
First off, the timeline. View the dates laid out in the presidential proclamation as more guideline than gospel. There’s nothing stopping President Trump from issuing a new order tomorrow; he doesn’t have to wait for the expiration of the current one.
Substantively, it’s unclear what shape the restrictions will take, and administration officials have been vague:
- Will the order suspend the program outright, perhaps for six months or a year?
- Could it be crafted to more narrowly target certain high-tech fields?
- The end of the academic year is prime time for new applications, which can lead to backlogs. What will happen to those that are pending?
- What about STEM extensions?
- Could students already authorized for OPT be grandfathered in?
- Will curricular practical training, which allows students to gain work experience as part of their academic program, be included, too?
Handicapping the path the president could take is tough, but those are some potential scenarios I’ve been hearing.
I don’t want to raise hopes, but there’s always the outside possibility that none of this will happen.
The original order, after all, was expected to be more far-reaching
than it ultimately was. Business groups, companies, and higher ed have all warned
about the costs of suspending OPT and H-1B, saying that to do so could only deepen the economic uncertainty. Could those arguments gain traction? On the other side of the fierce lobbying campaign, College Republican clubs are urging
the president to “make this right” by ending the programs.
Finally, it doesn’t take a presidential order to disrupt OPT. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that approves students’ work authorization, could run out of funding, as soon as this summer.