Big jump in job program for foreign graduates of US colleges

May 10, 2018 by Maria Danilova

A program that allows foreign students to stay in the United States for temporary employment after graduation has expanded significantly over a dozen years as technical companies stepped up hiring of science and engineering majors, according to a report released Thursday.

The study by Pew Research Center in Washington comes as colleges and universities across the country struggle with falling enrollment by foreign students amid the Trump administration's anti-immigration rhetoric and policies.

In 2016, 172,000 foreign nationals who went to college or university in the U.S. got a job through the Optional Practical Training compared to 45,000 in 2004, according to the report. Participation in the program surged after President George W. Bush and then President Barack Obama extended the length of stay for science, technology, engineering and math majors.

Neil Ruiz, a co-author of the report, says the program has been key in attracting foreign students to study in America and keep them here after they graduate. U.S. universities have the largest foreign student population in the world.

According to a separate study by the Association of International Educators, contributed $37 billion in tuition and living expenses to the U.S. economy in the academic year 2016-2017.

"It is very important to remember that we are in a global competition for talent," said Jill Welch, the association's deputy executive director for public policy. "We do not have to lose these talented and valuable international students to other nations."

But enrollment has been dropping. The Institute of International Education found that the number of new college students coming to the United States from overseas fell by 7 percent since Donald Trump was elected president. The group attributes the decline to his travel restrictions for nationals of some predominantly Muslim countries as well as competition from countries like Canada, Australia and Britain. And the Trump administration is also considering changes to the program. Although no details on the changes have been released, Trump generally has championed prioritizing American workers.

Rajika Bhandari, head of research at the Institute of International Education, said the program has successfully attracted science and engineering talent to the United States and boosted science research and innovation. If the program is scaled back, she warns, those students might choose other destinations.

"The US will significantly lose its edge in and innovation if international students in the sciences and engineering chose to go to other countries that have very strong and attractive post-study opportunities," Bhandari said.

Brad Farnsworth, vice president at the American Council on Education, a group representing 1,800 college and university presidents, agrees.

"It's good for international students, it's good for employers, it's also good for the U.S. institutions that are trying to be more attractive to ," he said.

But David North, a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies, argues the program puts Americans at a disadvantage. Workers in the jobs program and their employers don't have to pay Medicare and Social Security taxes, so the companies would have a financial incentive to hire an OPT as opposed to a U.S. citizen, he says.

"Foreign worker programs in general, including OPT, should not be encouraged because it takes jobs from US workers that they could easily perform," North says. "They should rethink the program completely, and they should certainly remove the subsidy."

Explore further: Foreign graduate students and postdocs consider leaving the US

Related Stories

Boys, fathers and mentors work together for STEM engagement

March 26, 2018

Both the medium and the message are STEM—encouraging fourth and fifth-grade African-American and Latino boys to embrace the cool factor of science, technology, engineering and mathematics through hands-on engineering activities ...

US tells companies not to overlook qualified Americans

April 4, 2017

The Trump administration has issued a stern warning to U.S. companies as they begin applying for coveted skilled-worker visas, cautioning that it would investigate and prosecute those who overlook qualified American workers ...

Recommended for you

Team breaks world record for fast, accurate AI training

November 7, 2018

Researchers at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) have partnered with a team from Tencent Machine Learning to create a new technique for training artificial intelligence (AI) machines faster than ever before while maintaining ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

katesisco
3 / 5 (1) May 10, 2018
Amazing. Not only are US students failed by their own government by the free-wheeling VISA handouts overseas, they are double whammied by the park-it-here job give aways. You would think that the US would attach a fee for the foreign students not paying SS.
As for the GDP figure, it seems akin to what US residents pay for their 'pet privilege' in addition to paying SS. They are besieged on all sides by the extractive economy here at home, divorced and lonely, a pet seems to be the answer rather than a risk it all dive into Facebook sex scenes.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.