(CN) - Because it costs the tech industry less to hire foreign nationals, U.S. scientists upset over the competition can challenge a visa program, a federal judge ruled.
The U.S. scientists at issue belong to the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, a collective-bargaining organization representing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers.
They filed suit earlier this year in Washington, D.C., over the Department of Homeland Security's extension in 2008 of a program called Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows foreign nationals in the U.S. on a student visa to work for a year during and following their college studies.
OPT was implemented in 1947 but Homeland Security issued an interim final rule in April 2008 that extended the visas for 17 months for students with STEM degrees.
The Washington Alliance, which notes that employers find foreign workers particularly attractive because they do not require Medicare or Social Security taxes, said Homeland Security exceeded its authority and approved the extensions in "direct contradiction" to provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act.
As proof that the program harms domestic STEM workers, the alliance noted that three of its members were denied employment because the jobs went to OPT workers instead.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle allowed most claims to proceed Friday.
Because the alliance showed that OPT directly harmed its members, all of the challenges to the visa extension for STEM workers can proceed, the ruling states.
"The three named WashTech members that plaintiff describes in its complaint are part of the computer programming labor market, a subset of the STEM market," Huvelle wrote. "The complaint sufficiently establishes that these three members 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."
Both parties must respond by Dec. 10 with a schedule for further proceedings.
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