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US stakeholders condemn latest attempt to suspend OPT

Sector stakeholders have condemned the latest attempt to undermine the Optional Practical Training program amid turbulence in the American jobs market, reiterating the benefits of the program for the economy and highlighting evidence that shows OPT creates – rather than takes away – employment for US citizens.

In recent years there have been several efforts to curb the OPT program on the basis that it takes jobs from American citizens. Photo: Unsplash

"Some students left the country at spring break and never came back because of Covid-19"

Prominent advocates of the value of the OPT program, such as Michael Crow of ASU, are also lobbying political and business leaders.

An extension of an international student’s visa, OPT allows graduates to work in an area related to their study for a total of 12 months or longer if they have a STEM degree.

However, on May 7 four influential senators have penned a letter to president Donald Trump, urging him to suspend issuing guest worker visas – including students on OPT – for at least 60 days.

“There is certainly no reason to allow foreign students to stay for three additional years just to take jobs that would otherwise go to unemployed Americans”

“After 60 days we urge you to continue to suspend new non-immigrant guest workers for one year or until our national unemployment figures return to normal levels. That suspension should at a minimum include H-2B visas, H-1B visas and the OPT program,” the senators wrote.

“While the merits of such a program are subject to debate, there is certainly no reason to allow foreign students to stay for three additional years just to take jobs that would otherwise go to unemployed Americans as our economy recovers.”

In recent years there have been several efforts to curb the OPT program on the basis that it “hurts American citizens”, with the need for flexibility around the program in light of the current Covid-19 crisis put forward in a recent letter sent to DHS by NAFSA.

The valuable program  – which represents a significant share of the overall international student population – is also hit by uncertainty in terms of access because of Covid-19.

The number of students in OPT rose from 203,460 in 2017/18 to 223,085 in 2018/19, a percentage increase of 9.6%.

Speaking during a Presidents’ Alliance webinar, attorney and member of the Presidents’ Alliance legal advisory council, Dan Berger, said while some the US government has provided some guidance in areas such as remote learning, information on whether students can file for OPT abroad still hasn’t been given.

“Some students left the country at spring break and never came back because of Covid-19. They’ve been taking classes [remotely], but if they’re graduating, can they apply for OPT from abroad? We don’t have guidance yet,” he told attendees.

“And I think if we don’t have guidance soon, clear guidance, then they may miss their chance to be able to get that work authorisation after graduation,” Berger added.

Reiterating the need for clarity on the OPT program, Kristie De Pena, vice president for policy and director of immigration policy at the Niskanen Center said urgent clarity from DHS on time spent unemployed was crucial.

Although many organisations have petitioned DHS to not consider the time spent unemployed during the Covid-19 emergence towards the 90 day unemployment limit, DHS said it is still evaluating that request.

“That has been outstanding for a number of weeks. The latest development from the Student Exchange Visitor Program is that they will consider students working fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT, which is a good development,” said De Pena.

“But whether they will authorise further flexibilities, grace periods for unemployment, potentially changing start dates of OPT or applications for OPT made outside the US remains to be seen.”

She added that the president’s proclamation, which suspends entry for 60 days for individuals seeking to enter the US as immigrants is rapidly approaching its 30-day point of review.

“By May 23, the secretaries of Labour, DHS and State are required to review all non-immigrant programs and recommend to the president other appropriate measures to stimulate the US economy and ensure, ‘the prioritisation, hiring and employment of US workers’,” she explained.

“This week, in fact, we saw a group of senators call for the suspension of all new non-immigrant guest workers.

“So I think that we can expect future suspensions that will be justified in some way by these claims of protecting the labour market from immigrant competition.”

But, De Pena added, “we should be comforted in some way that we know that the data is on our side”.

“We do know that scaling back or eliminating entirely the OPT program has long been on the radar of the Trump administration, and that’s again justified by the pretence that decreasing the number of foreign workers will lift the burden of unemployment from Americans moving forward.

“We know that this is not accurate,” she said.

“[Niskanen] has done some original research on OPT that indicates participants have positive effects on innovation and marginal productivity of high skilled workers and little to no effect on other economic outcomes.”

According to the research, scaling back OPT would cause the unemployment rate to rise 0.15 percentage points by 2028 and a total of 443,000 jobs would be lost in the economy, resulting in 255,000 fewer positions for native-born workers.

“So I know that’s a drop in the bucket these days, but this is critically important data for advocates and lawmakers to understand,” De Pena continued.

As a means of drumming up support for the OPT program, director of policy and communications for the Presidents’ Alliance, Jose Magaña-Salgado, said he would encourage institutions to contact their industry partners and communicate that the program “is on the chopping block”.

“We have college and university presidents – such as president Crow of Arizona State University – sending letters to the CEOs and businesses where they place OPT students actually flagging them of this potential issue and asking them to engage by weighing in with Congress and with the White House to maintain this program,” he said.

“We are definitely encouraging folks to contact their industry partners in a manner that’s similar.”

“I think that it’s really important that we have surrogates carry the message to Capitol Hill, those business interests that depend heavily on the OPT program,” added Matt Salmon, vice president of government affairs at Arizona State University.

“We need to dig down and find some of those OPT students that have gone on and done wonderful things”

“And if we severely impede our ability to bring innovators into this country, then we’re going to lose our competitive edge.  I think that has to be a message that we carry forth through a lot of these policymakers that are advocating for severely diminishing OPT as well as H-1B visas.”

Salmon added that it is “incredibly important” to appeal to the human interest side as well.

“I think we really need to dig down and find some of those OPT students that have gone on and done really wonderful things such as inventions, innovations and helping out the US economy,” he added.

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19 Responses to US stakeholders condemn latest attempt to suspend OPT

  1. “It makes no sense to eliminate OPT as the students working during OPT are working on jobs related to their majors”. Most of them from STEM fields and the great majority of Americans who requested unemployment were people with minimal wage jobs. Therefore, there is no correlation with the assumption that the OPT program is taking away jobs from American workers.

  2. You think a company will go and hire a person on an H1B Visa if there were American Citizens applying to these jobs & were qualified for these jobs?

    Obviously these senators have no sense because they’re not crunching the numbers they need to.

    Most of the people unemployed right now are in low wage jobs in the service industry.

    OPT is the reason why the US Educational System is so attractive to International Students. If OPT is cancelled, it is going to be disastrous for not only the US Educational System, but the US Economy in the future.

    US Universities are filled to the brim with international students who are willing to pay exorbitant sums of money for an education. The average American can’t afford going to college because of how expensive a schools are. If OPT is cancelled, International Students will look to other countries for education (Canada & UK have become particularly attractive to International students since the start of the Trump Administration). Reduced intake in universities will lead to dilution of the student & faculty pool & will reduce the quality of education & thus innovation & the economy.

    Everyone cries about how ‘US Made’ is awesome but no one has considered that the top companies in the US are run by executives hailing from other countries (not the US) and a lot of these top executives actually came to the US for education. (Sundar Pichai & Satya Nadella to name 2 glorious examples). Even the top universities in the US have a high percentage of Asian/ Asian origin professors (Indian & Chinese).

    Nothing in the US is actually ‘US Made’. The administration simply needs to end this hate mongering and find the root cause of why there are so many unemployed people. The reason for this is education which is still a luxury in a ‘Developed’ Nation like the United States.

  3. The reality is that the stakeholders supporting OPT as they can done their work with low wage and earn profits which they can enjoy. It’s better to give the same training to American Graduates so as to enable them future employment opportunity by suspending OPT as well as h1b & L1 visas.

  4. As truly said students coming to USA for study are having outstanding caliber to make research and innovations, which helps the country to develop new technics and technology related industries. The sss as ne will result in more employment and will strengthen the economy of the nation. If we look at the top technocrats who have strengthen the economy of the nation are the brain storm students of different nations. So it’s very foolish to suspend OPT which doesn’t effect the employment of US citizen but on the contrary it will effect the development adversely to the economy of the nation and hence create more un employment.

  5. Trump administration and their supporters are trying to hide their inefficiency in leading the country from the front and trying to play politics around these much needed opportunities to work in the field of related major to gain experience and grow as an individual. US universities are too costly as compared to Canada ,Australia, and Germany. The only reason students came to US was the opportunity to work, innovate, and find a better version of themselves and initially US market developed and prospered on the foundation of these decisions taken by the US administration, and now since there is no serious leadership taken at the end of US administration, they are playing around these issues.

  6. I work in higher ed with international students and I have seen students apply for OPT and seen them pay money to get an offer letter. Perhaps we need to also look at individuals that are doing things under handedly first and eliminate those issues first. I feel sorry for our American citizens who may be unemployed trying to do things the right way and don’t get an opportunity. I agree that we should look into lowering OPT to make way for our US citizens. Its backwards thinking like this that has gotten us here in the first place. What happen to putting our own first? Other countries do it, why is it so wrong that we do it the right way?

  7. It’s pretty unjust and worrisome that they are playing with careers of young educated aspirants .. International students is a 40 billion industry , many spend their fortune in getting the best education . It’s injustice to send them back … count the number of jobs probably barely 6 figures , how is it going to stack up against 30 million jobs post covid … very clear it’s a political and creating division among different sects …

    That’s how dynasties rule divide and conquer …

  8. I’m a University admin who works with many domestic and international graduate students and closely with local business leaders who are always looking for specialized talent. We have a large skill gap in STEM industries. Visa holders are NOT taking jobs from U.S. citizens; they are allowing some of our largest employers to fill the gaps so they can continue to operate here. We will lose many more jobs than we save if we make it even harder for these businesses to find employees with the specialized skills they need. They’ll simply relocate somewhere richer in human capital and less restrictive on who can be legally employed.

  9. Im not against immigration. However, we are in different times right now. It makes sense to suspend OPT now that there are many Americans that are out of work and will be relying to the government in the next few months. OPT benefits the student by prolonging their stay here , hoping to eventually get hired and become naturalized citizen here. It also benefits the school because that is what they advertise they promise find work for student once they graduate and the employers who takes advantage of having someone to work for them either free or give the lowest minimum they are willing to pay. So, why would they hire an American and pay a higher rate when they can get away with paying less to these students who are desperate to get their training.
    There are so many American students that are willing to pursue their studies, finish their degrees/ bachelors and are capable of learning what these immigrants are doing here but they financially tied up. They do not have enough resources to pay for their tuition. Education is not really free and the only way they can afford to go to school is work at the same time . If only the government would help to provide for free tuition, books and other miscellaneous, then our country does not have to hire professionals else where.

  10. If OPT is withdrawn, the billion dollar US education industry will come to a grinding halt and in the long run USA Inc will have lost the inflow of best brains that move the American engine that made it an economic, technological and innovative superpower.

    • This makes no sense. The student has to work in a field directly related to their degree. Why wouldn’t the US want to hire students educated here? Why should employers settle and hire a US citizen for a job if they’re not the most qualified candidate? Jobs are competitive and if the best applicant needs an employment based visa, the employer should have the right to hire them.

  11. Many students on OPT donot work in the field they graduated
    Lot of nepotism works
    Indian companies are known for it
    Elite promotes elite Puerto theory
    A student who has paid tons of money for ug also belongs to that class.
    Let them not have OPT gratia but earn it
    They jump from one field to another thru favours

  12. The reactionary administration in Washington simply uses OPT and visa curtailment as tools to please their base of supporters. US industry knows the value of OPT, and the missing skills that international students bring to the United States. International Students are assets that we can easily lose. We must speak loudly in support of OPT and easing student visa issuance.

  13. Even talking about the possiblity to eliminate OPT has the effect of reducing the # of international students coming to the US. International students bring billions of dollars into the US and many jobs are created, in fact many schools rely on these students paying out of state tution to fund programs . As well- they pay rent, consume locally and their families come in as tourists and spend liberally.
    Other countries compete to bring in international students, who bring talent and skills. If the US loses international students it will be long term and short term very detrimental to the economy and to our strength. It will make us poorer in so many ways.

  14. If we Americans truly value competition, then we should not need to be protectionist and deny companies the ability to hire top talent. I have three children in good public schools – I know from this first hand experience we do not train our children sufficiently in the sciences and mathematics to be the top talent in STEM fields and to compete effectively. having a large pool of unemployed people does not mean those people are qualified for computer programing, materials science, or data analytics jobs. students from outside the US are outperforming us for these jobs because we do not prepare children/students for these positions.

  15. We Americans always worry about our economy, our Higher Education Institutions, Our industry, our research and everything ours. When we will have similar worry about the countries where these brilliant students come from? We want to use every one of them here, most of them for cheap labor by the American corporations including our universities paying these students and scholars just peanuts for their hard work. It pains me see how these students and scholars are exploited because they are so vulnerable to visa options and its duration. It is time for American institutions to consider the home countries they came from which really invested in these students and scholars hoping they will build their cars and ventilators or uplift their research and institutions. Our greed keep those countries poor and illiterate. There is a total unfairness in this regard. Right now America’s future is in serious jeopardy and the legislators who represent their own states have genuine concern for their own people. We cannot and we should not ignore that.

  16. This is all political. The majority of jobs that OPT/H1-B goes to are very high-skilled jobs. The jobs lost in the pandemic are service industry jobs, minimum wage jobs, jobs in cafes, and lower income jobs. No one on OPT works in these areas. Also, all companies in the US give priority to US citizens for all jobs. OPT students are a last consideration after all options have been exhausted. This means that they are not taking away a job from anyone. I think that it is better to look at the facts here rather than make a decision based on emotion. If you even look at the sectors where OPT students work, mostly tech, that is the sector that is actually expanding and needing more workers during the pandemic. America was built on bringing the smartest, best and brightest to our shores so they can contribute to our economy. 43 % of the Fortune 500 (the companies which make the US the business leader of the world ) were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. Just to mention one Zoom, the one app helping us during this pandemic, was also founded by an immigrant. Just to mention a few – Aren’t we happy that the CEO of Zoom chose to bring his company to America. Tesla another iconic company was also founded by an immigrant. How many US jobs have those companies created ?

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