Special Interests Are Suing to End a Critical STEM Program. Manufacturers Are Fighting Back in Court.

By October 18, 2018Shopfloor Main

The success of manufacturing in America depends on a highly skilled workforce, including workers trained in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). A longstanding federal program that helps manufacturers recruit and retain those workers is under attack from a special interest group that has sued to invalidate the program. Today, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)—together with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Information Technology Industry Council—asked to join that lawsuit to help defend a critical talent pipeline for manufacturers.

To address a shortfall of certain skilled workers in the American economy, the federal government in 1992 established the “optional practical training” (OPT) program. That program and a subsequent extension for STEM students—STEM OPT—allows foreign-born graduates of U.S. universities to continue their educational training by working in the United States for up to three years after graduation.

Without the OPT program and STEM OPT, manufacturers would be unable to fill critical positions requiring specialized training in engineering, math, technology and the sciences. Most graduates from U.S. universities at the masters and Ph.D. levels in STEM fields are foreign born. Manufacturers already have nearly half a million jobs that are unfilled today. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 1.5 million graduates were authorized to work in the U.S. through the OPT program between 2004 and 2016, and hundreds of thousands of those graduates remain employed today.

A special interest group is seeking to invalidate the entire OPT program by suing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Although DHS previously defended the lawsuit, it recently criticized the OPT program and announced its intent to reform the program comprehensively . To help ensure the continued availability of hundreds of thousands of highly skilled workers for manufacturers, the NAM today asked a federal court in Washington, D.C., to allow our intervention in the case as a defendant. Becoming a defendant will allow the NAM to present the best legal arguments possible in support of the OPT program and STEM OPT. If the plaintiff somehow prevails at this stage of the litigation, the NAM can appeal.

The NAM’s efforts are being led by Vice President of Litigation and Deputy General Counsel Peter Tolsdorf and Vice President of Infrastructure, Innovation and Human Resources Policy Robyn Boerstling. Further information about the NAM’s legal work on behalf of manufacturers is available at www.nam.org/mcla, and information about our immigration reform efforts can be found at http://www.nam.org/Issues/Immigration/Immigration/.

The OPT program allows companies access to the workforce they need to innovate and grow here in the United States. The NAM is proud to represent manufacturers on this critical workforce issue.

Peter Tolsdorf

Peter Tolsdorf is the vice president of litigation and deputy general counsel at the National Association of Manufacturers.

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