Court Upholds F-1 OPT Programs

The D.C. Circuit Court recently ruled in favor of the U.S. government in a lawsuit brought by a worker’s union, holding the F-1 optional practical training (OPT) and STEM OPT programs were lawfully enacted. The union unsuccessfully argued that the statute passed by Congress that created the F-1 program did not allow for any type of work authorization. The court, however, found that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the authority to provide F-1 students with work authorization.

Background on OPT

An eligible F-1 student may use the OPT program to obtain up to 12 months of employment authorization in order to perform work directly related to the major area of study. OPT may be granted either pre- or post-completion of the program of study. In addition, an F-1 student enrolled in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) program may be eligible to apply for a STEM OPT extension, which provides work authorization for an additional 24 months.

OPT Program is Reasonably Related to F-1 Student’s Purpose of Entry

Under the OPT program, F-1 students are authorized to work for one year in the United States to “enhance participating students’ ability to achieve the objectives of study by allowing them to gain valuable knowledge and skills through on-the-job training that may be unavailable in their home countries.” DHS also created the STEM OPT program, which grants F-1 students in STEM fields an additional two years of work authorization because they “need practical training in a workplace setting to operationalize their new knowledge.” Therefore, the Court held that the STEM OPT program is “reasonably related’ to an F-1 student’s purpose of earning the U.S. degree because it provides training for skills gained through the degree program.


This decision by the federal appeals court maintains the status quo of the F-1 OPT and STEM OPT programs. This is a tremendous relief, as the availability of OPT helps to attract foreign national students to pursue their education in the United States.


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