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Protecting Optional Practical Training is in our national interest

Providing a "bridge" for international graduates to stay and work in the U.S. is vital for the nation's workforce and economy

"OPT serves our national interest, helping to address skill scarcities, fueling research and development, and investing long-term in the future American workforce."
Read more:
What is OPT? 5 Things to Know

Every year, more than 1 million students from around the globe earn their higher education at colleges and universities in the U.S. However, our outdated immigration system does not provide a clear pathway for graduates to remain in the country long-term and pursue citizenship, so many of these students will take their American education elsewhere instead. Optional Practical Training (OPT) program provides a limited but important solution for some by functioning as a limited “bridge visa status,” providing a connection between their student status and finding an employer to sponsor them for a work visa or green card.

The promise of real-world experience and a “bridge” to a longer-term immigration status for highly-skilled, U.S.-educated graduates serves our national interest by helping address severe skill shortages; fueling research, development, and innovation at U.S. businesses; and by investing long-term in the future American workforce, in addition to the benefits of applied training for OPT participants.

Immigration restrictionists are trying to end OPT

Anti-immigration advocates have stepped up attacks on a number of legal immigration programs, including OPT, a program that allows international graduates to secure employment in their area of study in order to gain valuable hands-on experience and enter the jobs pipeline. These organizations and lawmakers have pushed lawsuits and legislation attempting to eliminate practical training options for graduates.

That is why FWD.us led 63 U.S. employers, business organizations, and trade associations in filing an amicus brief in WashTech v. DHS to combat these continued attempts to end OPT. In the amicus brief, these leaders from the business community explained the critical role programs like OPT can play in welcoming skilled professionals to the U.S. workforce.

Recruiting and retaining skilled STEM professionals is critical for the U.S. workforce

Providing opportunities for practical training directly contributes to the retention of talented individuals who have already developed familiarity with American culture, business and research practices, and entrepreneurial spirit through their training and research at our nation’s higher education institutions. Our nation would nonsensically be sending even more of these graduates away to work for our global competitors and compete against us if OPT were eliminated, instead of capitalizing on the investment in their education here in the U.S.

International graduates help address major talent shortages in critical fields like science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM). According to New American Economy (NAE), job postings for STEM-related roles vastly outnumbered the qualified individuals searching for work in the same fields by as much as 13 open jobs to 1 qualified applicant nationally in 2017, while more than 14 rural states (such as North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska) had ratios over 40:1. In total, NAE estimates there were 3,000,000 more STEM jobs than workers to fill them.

Even as national unemployment levels have spiked in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, unemployment levels in STEM fields have stayed relatively lower than other sectors, and in some cases, like computer occupations, unemployment rates have even continued to drop. This dynamic of extremely high demand coupled with low supply imposes severe strains on employers across major sectors of our economy.

In contrast, filling critical roles allows employers to increase productivity and expand operations, creating opportunity and raising wages for native-born workers as well. One study found that an increase in 100 STEM professionals with an advanced degree from a U.S. school was associated with 262 additional jobs for U.S.-born workers.

Despite the growing need, U.S. universities are losing international students to competing nations like Canada and Australia. As a result, America’s leadership as the current top destination for international scholars is at risk.

Ending OPT would hurt the U.S. economy and benefit our competitors

International students add tremendous value and “are particularly valued because they improve higher education, subsidize domestic students, and contribute to national economies.” International students on OPT are attractive candidates for employers because of their occupational qualifications, language skills, and familiarity with American institutions, business practices, and culture.

But it’s not just a matter of wasted potential. The Business Roundtable estimates that curbing OPT could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs for U.S.-born workers, while also shrinking wages, reducing GDP, and slowing the creation of business creation. And if the OPT program does not exist for educated graduates to stay in the U.S., we will not only miss out on their contributions – they will directly benefit other countries, including countries with which the U.S. is in direct competition.

A recent study found that foreign affiliate employment increased as a direct response to restrictions in the United States concerning the employment of high-skilled foreign born professionals. This effect was measured most significantly for R&D-intensive firms. This is important because U.S. companies fund the vast majority (72%) of U.S.-based research and development; if employers are unable to hire needed individuals, that R&D development may move overseas. Over the past two decades, the National Science Foundation reports that the percentage of global R&D (including applied research) done in the U.S. has fallen as China has dramatically increased its R&D focus and state-funded R&D.

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