2| Faced with limited immigration options, OPT is the primary way international students gain U.S. work experience and enter the jobs pipeline
It is incredibly difficult for international graduates to earn a green card if they would like to permanently live and work in the U.S. The F-1 student visa does not allow for “dual intent,” meaning immigrants cannot come on an F-1 visa to study if they also plan on moving to the U.S. permanently, but instead have to apply for a different visa after completing their studies.
After their F-1 visa expires, graduates might look for an employer to sponsor them for a green card or a temporary skilled work visa like an H-1B. Even when employers would be willing to sponsor someone for a green card right out of college, excessive backlogs make it prohibitively difficult, so the H-1B is often the only option.
But the low annual supply of H-1Bs is consistently outstripped by demand, leaving applicants with a roughly one in three chance of even having their application read. And even if they secure the H-1B, those graduates will still have to wait in backlogs, potentially for a decade or more, if they want to secure a green card and eventually pursue citizenship.
OPT is an important but imperfect bridge, allowing graduates an opportunity to develop their skills and build relationships with potential employers while determining their future immigration options. It does not ultimately provide a clear path to permanent residency on its own, but it can give them time and experience to navigate the limited options available.