May 31st, 2018
A study was conducted by the Pew Research Center on trends of employment programs for foreign students seeking graduate degrees from the US educational institutes.
Foreign students can use OPT program to work in the US for up to one year. It is reported that participation in the OPT program has increased from 45,000 applicants in 2008 to 257,000 in 2016. Almost 50% of the students have engineering, science, and technology or STEM background.
The majority of OPT participants are Asians, and more than 50 percent of students belong to China, India, and South Korea while Latin American and European students make up 16%. 5% of students participating in the OPT program are from Africa.
While the H-1B visa is one of the most popular visas amongst foreign students, it is reported that more students are interested in OPT rather than H-1B visa. It is because the H-1B visa comes with a cap and not all students can qualify to get a short work permit.
On the other hand, OPT is easily accessible and could lead to an H-1B visa from a US employer. 172,000 foreign students have obtained H-1B visa in 2016 using this strategy, Moreover, only students with specialized skills can apply for an H-1B visa. This is one reason why foreign students prefer to utilize the OPT option. However, the number of foreign students in the US has dropped after the US presidential elections in 2016.
Political uncertainty is also a factor that leads to low foreign student enrollment during the 2016/17 academic year. Strict immigration rules and the focus of the government to hire more US citizens instead of foreign immigrants is also a major factor why the number of foreign students in the US has dropped.
The current government is aiming at a wider reform of the F-1 and H-1B visas. However, the opposition is highlighting the importance of foreign talent in the US. According to the Association of International Educators, foreign students added $37 billion to the economy in the year 2016/17, and that taking this share out of the economy would be a loss. Increasing restrictions on foreign students are also not in favor of the nation’s ideals on diversity and inclusiveness.