The Rise of the Optional Practical Training Program

The Pew Research Center found that "more foreign grads of U.S. colleges are staying in the country to work." An increasing number of high-skilled foreign workers are finding jobs in the U.S. under "Optional Practical Training" (OPT). This program allows foreign graduates from U.S. universities to work in the U.S. temporarily. Almost 700,000 OPT applications were approved in fiscal years 2008 through 2014. Data suggests that this number may continue to rise; a record high 1 million foreign students studied at U.S. universities in 2015-16 school year.

What is the OPT program?

U.S. college graduates with an F-1 visa may apply for the program. Those approved may work in the U.S. for up to a year. Students majoring in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), may work in the U.S. for up to 3 years. OPT has no cap on the number who may participate. The program is not subject to congressional oversight.

The Pew Research Center highlights some key facts about these students.

  • The annual number of program approvals saw a nearly fivefold increase from 2008 to 2014. This growth is mainly due to the Bush administration extending the STEM work time to 29 months in 2008. In 2016, the Obama administration extended the work time for STEM graduated to 36 months.
  • Almost as many people are approved for the OPT program as receive H-1B visas. Many working under the OPT program later apply for an H-1B visa to stay longer in the U.S.
  • STEM graduates made up 49% of OPT approvals from 2012 to 2015. The three most common majors during that time were business administration and management, electrical and electronics engineering, and computer science.
  • STEM majors had a higher employment rate than non-STEM majors in the program from 2012 to 2015. The employment rates for computer engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical and electronics engineering were 76, 75, and 75% respectively during that period. Non-STEM majors in the program saw an average employment rate of 57% during the period.
  • Students from India and China accounted for 57% of all OPT approvals from 2012 to 2015. The next three largest contributors to the program were South Korea, Taiwan, and Nepal.
  • Only 4% of OPT employees from 2012 to 2015 worked at the 10 largest tech companies in the Fortune 500.

Read the full article from the Pew Research Center here.

Categories: Immigration News