International graduates in the US Optional Practical Training (OPT) program may have to deal with OPT suspension soon. This comes as the US government considers further immigration restrictions to manage the devastating impact of COVID-19.
The OPT is a student visa extension which allows eligible international graduates to work in the US for up to 12 months after completing their studies. STEM majors get an additional 24 months. OPT is one of the only options available to graduating international students to stay and work in the United States and suspending OPT would mean that most international students who get a degree from a U.S. college or university would be forced to leave the country after graduating.
News reports suggest the Administration will soon take steps to suspend OPT, the Optional Practical Training program for international students who graduate from U.S. colleges and universities, along with restrictions to other legal immigration channels. This would be a significant mistake that will hurt our economy long term while providing no substantial impact on job or wage growth in the short term.
[Suspending OPT] would be a significant mistake that will hurt our economy long term while providing no substantial impact on job or wage growth in the short term. Research shows that each foreign-born STEM graduate who stays and works in the U.S. creates 2.62 jobs for native-born Americans. Suspending OPT would mean that most international students who get a degree from a U.S. college or university would be forced to leave the country after graduating.
First, the US government took the first step by suspending entry of immigrants deemed risky to the US. Then, it released an executive order directing agencies to “address this economic emergency by rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery”.
If the Administration immediately ends OPT and stops issuing renewals and extensions, many international graduates, including those graduating this year with pending OPT applications, might no longer qualify for their immigration status and could be forced to leave before having an opportunity to fully contribute to the U.S.
OPT allows international students who are studying at or have graduated from universities and colleges in the U.S. to maintain their student status and be authorized to work for an American employer in their field of study. Approximately 200,000 international students are living in and contributing to the United States thanks to OPT today.
Providing options to stay and work in the country after graduation is critical for retaining U.S. educated graduates, and for attracting future students, as well. Over the last few years, the Trump Administration’s ongoing efforts to limit legal immigration have contributed to alarming drops in international student enrollment rates, costing the U.S. economy more than $11 billion. Meanwhile, countries like Canada have rolled out more options for international students, and have seen enrollment rates grow as a result.
Because international students typically pay full tuition, their enrollment helps subsidize costs for domestic students and expands teaching and research capacity. However, recent drops in enrollment have cost some universities millions of dollars in lost revenue, and experts are already predicting a 25% drop in international enrollment next year because of COVID-19. Ending OPT could dramatically accelerate these losses.
International students are also economic contributors, providing $41 billion to the national economy and supporting 458,290 jobs. Research shows that each foreign-born STEM graduate who stays and works in the U.S. creates 2.62 jobs for native-born Americans, and that OPT in particular is associated with increased innovation and higher earnings for residents, with no discernible negative impact on employment.
If graduates are forced to leave, America’s investment in their education will directly benefit our competitors and leave a massive gap in our skilled workforce. With no prospect of employment after graduation, many students would stop coming to study in the first place, sacrificing one of America’s greatest competitive advantages and abandoning our role as the global leader in education and innovation.
International graduates on OPT make critical contributions to America’s national security and economy; that’s why more than 324 employers in trade, industry, and higher education associations wrote to the President, urging him to keep OPT in place.
Recently 21 Republican Members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf ahead of an announcement, urging the Administration to keep OPT intact. The letter explains:
“We urge the administration to publicly clarify that OPT will remain fully intact so we send the right messages abroad about the U.S. as an attractive destination for international students. As countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, China and Australia bolster immigration policies to attract and retain international students, the last thing our nation should do in this area is make ourselves less competitive by weakening OPT. The program is essential to the many international students who desire not just to study in the U.S. but also have a post completion training experience.”