Student Work International

Immigration Program Up 400% May Be Ending

From 2004 to 2016, almost 1.5 million foreign students were granted Optional Practical Training (OPT) and a Republican Congressman is now trying to abolish the program.

Representative Paul Gosar (R-Ariz) is introducing legislation that would end the OPT program. In a letter to President Trump, Rep. Gosar stated that “OPT hurts American citizens: debt-laden college grads are being denied employment opportunities, U.S. white collar professionals are being replaced by foreign labor and U.S. women and minority STEM candidates are being shut out of U.S. jobs.”

OPT grants foreign students in F-1 status the ability to work so that they may gain valuable experience in the United States and US employers can have access to a group of highly educated workers. OPT generally provides work authorization for one year, however those with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degree can secure status for three years. Approximately half of foreigners approved for OPT are STEM graduates.

OPT’s popularity has ballooned recently. In the past decade, the program has increased by 400% and OPT is now the largest source of new temporary high skilled immigrant workers in the US. With H-1B denial rates on the rise, OPT is poised to continue its ascent.

While Congressman Gosar argues that OPT is hurting the American worker, the National Foundation for American Policy’s Policy Brief (March 2019) states that: “there is no evidence that foreign students participating in the OPT program reduces job opportunities for U.S. workers. Instead, the evidence suggests that U.S. employers are more likely to turn to foreign student workers when U.S. workers are scarcer.”

Students not only face the looming threat of the elimination of the OPT program, but also increased processing times. As the NY Times recently reported, students applying for OPT are being subject to extended wait times, costing them job opportunities and added travel expenses. Jill Dolan, Dean of Princeton, wrote a letter to Princeton’s students expressing her concern with these delays and offering solutions for the students who are suffering financial distress. At Yale, 169 international students signed a petition requesting aid from the University’s President and the school responded by offering a new course that will allow for off-campus employment for international students.

From 2008 to 2016, new college enrollments among students on F-1 visas grew by 104%, however the enrollment of new international students declined by approximately 6 percent in the 2017/2018 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education. The decline is expected to continue, and it is estimated that by 2022 there will be a shortage of one million STEM workers in the US.