Georgetown joined 150 universities today in signing onto an amicus brief supporting temporary employment authorization for international students, a practice that would be eliminated if a case in the Court of Appeals succeeds.
The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) filed suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia five years ago, arguing that the department does not have the authority to grant work authorization to students with an F-1 visa.
Earlier this year, the district court ruled DHS had the authority to initiate and continue the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, as well as the two-year extension of the program called STEM-OPT. The plaintiffs are now appealing the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The universities, organized through the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and NAFSA: Association of International Educators, contend that allowing these students the opportunity to gain practical experience in their field while still in the United States is crucial.
Generations to Come
“Even our best students can only learn so much from the classroom; they must then test and further these lessons in the real world,” Victor Cha, vice dean of faculty and graduate affairs at the School of Foreign Service, is quoted as saying in the brief. “The opportunity to undertake internships, employment, or research is critical to their development as future leaders in a more globalized world community for generations forward.”
The Presidents’ Alliance and NAFSA note that the federal government has allowed students to pursue practical training since the 1950s, and that international students contributed nearly $39 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2019-2020 academic year.
The universities joining the amicus brief argue that “the education that international students will receive in the United States will be less robust, and the ability of American colleges and universities to attract and educate the best and brightest from around the world will diminish.”
An amicus or “friend of the court” brief is a legal document filed in a lawsuit by individuals or groups with a strong interest in the subject matter but who are not parties in the case. Georgetown also joined the Presidents’ Alliance and NAFSA amicus brief in the U.S. District Court challenge in 2019.
“In an increasingly competitive global higher education landscape, OPT is a signature strength of the United States,” notes Thomas Banchoff, the university’s vice president for global engagement, in the brief. “The opportunity to combine formal education with work experience is a magnet for talented students from abroad.”
Support During COVID-19
As the country continues to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, international and undocumented students are now able to benefit directly from federal legislation providing financial support for students and institutions of higher education under the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Previously, Georgetown awarded institutional funds to international students with financial need who would have otherwise not qualified for federal funds.
“The pandemic has hit all of our students hard, and international students have faced a special set of personal and financial pressures, especially when they have found themselves stranded at a distance from family and other forms of support,” says Alexander Sens, interim dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. “As an institution animated by the principle of cura personalis, we are committed to supporting the international student community that contributes so much to making Georgetown a great place for graduate study.”
This month, Georgetown announced the university will immediately disburse another round of relief grants to students with exceptional financial need – including direct grants to international and undocumented students – under the ARP.