Why CPT is an Academic Matter and Not Appropriate for Union Bargaining

As MIT and the Graduate Student Union (GSU-UE) negotiate a first contract, one critical area of disagreement pertains to federal Curricular Practical Training (CPT) rules. This is an important area that requires some explaining.

CPT is a federally regulated employment authorization type available to F-1 students when training/internship experiences are an “integral part” of a student’s academic program and “directly related” to the student’s major area of study [1].

The GSU-UE is demanding that the Institute guarantee all doctoral and master’s degree students on F-1 visas the right to pursue up to 12 months of credit-bearing internship opportunities eligible for CPT authorization, except for students in one-year programs. This would require the MIT administration to impose curricular changes on nearly all of its 109 graduate academic programs.

MIT disagrees with the GSU-UE’s position on CPT for the following reasons:

  1. CPT eligibility is an academic matter related to the design of program curricula, and as we have stated throughout this process, MIT does not see academic matters as appropriate topics for union bargaining.
  2. The changes the GSU-UE is seeking to make would usurp the authority of the faculty responsible for curricular decisions within individual academic programs.
  3. The changes would require even shorter (e.g., two-year) programs to allow up to 12 months of credit-bearing internship opportunities.
  4. Even for longer programs, 12 months of training/internships might not align with a program’s academic objectives and may interfere with a student’s ability to complete their academic research and satisfy other program requirements.

The below summarizes MIT’s negotiating principles, rationale, and some concerns regarding the GSU-UE’s position on CPT.

Refraining from Bargaining on Academic Matters

Rationale for Current Practices

  • Federal immigration rules state that expanded internships and experiential learning opportunities that meet the requirements for CPT authorization must be done via changes to students’ academic curricula.
  • Making changes to curricula is an academic decision that requires extensive input from various members of our community, including faculty, students, departmental administrators, and others.

Concerns with the GSU-UE Demands

  • Academic decisions are not mandatory subjects of labor bargaining and are usually retained by the university in contracts with graduate student unions (as they are at Harvard and Columbia, for example).

Maintaining Academic Integrity and Flexibility

Rationale for Current Practices

Concerns with the GSU-UE Demands

  • It would be impractical to force nearly all of MIT’s 109 distinct graduate programs to incorporate 12 months of credit-bearing training/internship opportunities into their curricula. Some programs are short and could not feasibly support a full year of CPT.
  • Even for longer programs, 12 months of training/internships might not align with a program’s academic objectives and may interfere with a student’s ability to complete their academic research and satisfy other program requirements.

Minimizing Risk to Our Students and the Institute

Rationale for Current Practices

  • By law, to qualify for CPT authorization, an internship must be an “integral part of an established curriculum” and “directly related to the student’s major area of study,” according to the the Department of Homeland Security.
  • MIT’s current approach to CPT allows the Institute to:
    • Maintain compliance with federal law and regulations.
    • Remain competitive and continue to attract top global talent by minimizing the risk of our prospective and current international students unwittingly violating their F-1 status.

Concerns with the GSU-UE Demands

  • If MIT does not strictly follow the law, then the consequences to the individual student can be severe, including:
    • Revocation of the student’s visa; and
    • Inability to receive future visas needed to remain and work in the United States.

A Deeper Dive Into the Issue

What options are available for F-1 graduate students whose academic programs do not provide 12 months of credit-bearing training/internship opportunities?

  • If a student or their academic program does not meet eligibility requirements for maximum CPT authorization, they may still be eligible to apply for separate off-campus employment authorization through the F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization benefit. For additional information see the International Students Office (ISO) website, iso.mit.edu.

Has the GSU-UE provided examples of peer schools who have institute-wide policies that permit 12 months of CPT for F-1 international students across all graduate academic programs?

  • No. We are aware of some peer schools that, like MIT, have different practices across their graduate programs when it comes to credit-bearing training/internship and CPT opportunities. We are not aware of any peer school that provides all graduate students – across all graduate programs – with 12 months of CPT-eligible opportunities.

How is MIT working to expand CPT opportunities for international students?

  • The ISO continues to work with academic programs/departments to create more curricular opportunities that could allow students to utilize CPT authorization within the parameters set by USDHS regulations. In addition, there is an active effort via the Ad Hoc Committee on Graduate Student Professional and Personal Development. Chaired by professors Martha Gray and Dave Darmofal, the student-staff-faculty effort is working to implement, among several improvements, broader professional development requirements for PhD students that may incorporate internships, for example, and that would be applicable to different departments and programs across MIT.

1 For complete regulations and policies related to F-1 Curricular Practical Training CPT), visit the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/sevis-help-hub/student-records/fm-student-employment/f-1-curricular-practical-training-cpt  

This update is intended to provide factual information about a topic of great interest to MIT and the GSU-UE. As bargaining continues and new information becomes available, MIT’s and the union’s positions on this issue may evolve.