Optional Practical Training for International Students is Vital to America’s Best Interest: Don’t Let the Best and Brightest Slip Away

Oct 14, 2022 | Human Resources Services

A new decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sustaining the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) current rule on Optional Practical Training (OPT) is good news for the United States. The rule authorizes a limited period of post-coursework OPT, if recommended and overseen by the school and approved by DHS, for qualifying international students on F-1 visas.

OPT allows a period of 12 months of employment in a student’s field of study, with a 24-month extension beyond that for students in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields. More than 100,000 of the roughly 1 million international students who come to the United States complete a period of practical training. As the court noted, “hands-on work is critical for understanding fast-moving technological and scientific developments.”

OPT enables these students to complete a critical piece of their education—learning how to apply their knowledge gained from university studies to hands-on, real-world needs—and to begin contributing immediately to their fields the United States. If we don’t retain international students in the United States after they complete their courses of study, they’ll take their skills elsewhere and go to work for our competitors in other countries. As it is, when their F-1 student status expires, they have to find employer sponsors to enter the pipeline for high-tech jobs in the United States, which is not easy. OPT makes it more likely that they will be able to find employer sponsors in the United States.

In addition to keeping international students in high-tech fields in the United States for a period of time after they graduate, offering OPT with at least the prospect of future employment is important because in many cases these students would otherwise go to study in countries that do offer post-graduate work programs and make efforts to attract them, like Australia, Canada, China, and India. In an op-ed in the New York Times, the former chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, notes that the United States is “in a technology competition with China that has profound ramifications for our economy and defense—a reality I have come to appreciate as chairman of two government panels on innovation and national security. The government needs to get back in the game in a serious way.” Unless current trends change, he says, “in the 2030s we will be competing with a country that has a bigger economy, more research and development investments, better research, wider deployment of new technologies and stronger computing infrastructure.”

Among the solutions Mr. Schmidt proposes is undertaking “major efforts to train up-and-coming scientists and engineers, and attract more global technology experts to the United States.” He calls computer scientists born in other countries and working in the United States “a source of national strength.” According to FWD.us estimates, “allowing such graduates to work permanently in the U.S. could add up to $233 billion in wages to the U.S. economy this decade, including $65 billion in combined federal, state, and local taxes. Such a policy could also reduce our STEM-related talent shortages by a quarter this decade.”

In an amicus brief to Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. Dept. of Homeland Security and National Association of Manufacturers, FWD.us notes that many companies “struggle to fill STEM jobs and often face significant and persistent vacancies. The OPT and STEM OPT programs are critical to addressing that deficit.” About 16 percent of all graduates in STEM fields are international students, including nearly half of STEM master’s (48 percent) and PhD (45 percent) graduates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A report by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence notes, “The American AI talent pool depends heavily on international students and workers. Our global competitiveness hinges on our ability to attract and retain top minds from around the world.”

To attract the best and brightest brains and retain them in the United States, OPT for international students in high-tech fields is a no-brainer. For extra credit, further smoothing their pathway toward permanent employment in the United States would get an A+.

Contact your WR attorney for advice and help in specific situations.


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