The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently determined that a union that represents technology workers has standing to sue the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the basis that these workers were harmed by the U.S. Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) STEM extension program. In Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the court considered whether a collective-bargaining organization that represents science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workers had standing to sue the U.S. government on the basis that the OPT program and OPT STEM extension program had injured the U.S. workers represented by this union. The plaintiff argued that these programs had increased competition for STEM jobs, which harmed its union members. Specifically, three union members were unable to obtain employment with JP Morgan Chase, Ernst &Young, IBM, and Hewlett Packard between 2010 and 2011. During this same time period, these organizations employed OPT STEM employees. The District Court stated that to establish standing, the plaintiff must show that: “(1) it has suffered an injury-in-fact, (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant’s challenged conduct, and (3) the injury is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision.” Since there was no allegation in the complaint that the union’s workers applied for roles that were filled by OPT workers, the first three complaints were dismissed. In reviewing the remaining complaints, the court did find that the three workers “are specialized in computer technology, and they have sought out a wide variety of STEM positions with numerous employers, but have failed to obtain these positions following the promulgation of the OPT STEM extension in 2008.” Since the court found that these workers were “in direct and current competition with OPT students on a STEM extension,” the court found that the plaintiff had standing to sue on the remaining claims. While the STEM program is applauded for providing work authorization to individuals who have needed science, technology, engineering, and mathematics training in the U.S., this case shows that some unions believe that U.S. workers are being harmed.
As part of President Obama’s public claims to foster legal immigration and encourage entrepreneurship, the DHS announced several planned reforms to achieve these goals without the need for legislative action. We applaud the goals of the administration and these planned reforms and just hope that the culture of no which so permeates the agency at the service center levels are not able to quickly thwart the Preseident’s plans in much the same way that Senator Grassley and his cohorts in Congress would most assuredly stop these reform measures if Congressional action were required.
With the H-1b cap season in full swing, the USCIS has issued a new set of FAQ on the subject of “cap-gap”. A “cap-gap” occurs when a foreign student’s EAD card, issued pursuant to the OPT rules, expires prior to October 1, 2011. The USCIS has adopted rules that provides for an automatic extension that allows students to continue to be employed under the OPT provisions as long as their sponsoring employer has timely filed an H-1b cap subject petition that is properly receipted. An employer should be careful that the employee’s I-9 form is properly completed in this situation. We applaud the USCIS for its “cap-gap” policy.