US: East, West Coast areas have highest number of OPT enrollees
Where do international students work in the US under the OPT program? Source: Matthew Hicks on Unsplash

America’s East and West Coast cities dominate the list of top destination international graduates enrolled under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, a new report by the Pew Research Centre has found has found.

New York has received the highest number (74,000) of international graduates approved for the federal training program, followed by California metro areas of San Jose (44,500) and San Francisco (33,700)  according to the recently published analysis of the number of OPT enrollees with an associate degree or higher by metro area.

Pew’s data also shows that the New York and Los Angeles also saw the top two highest outflows of students following graduation to look for work elsewhere, with 26,300 and 21,900 students respectively leaving the metro areas to enroll in their OPT program elsewhere.

The metro area of New York also retained the highest number of graduates (218,400) who continued to stay and work in the metro area their university is located. This is followed by Los Angeles (103,600_ and Boston (73,000). On the other end of the spectrum, two Illinois areas – Springfield and Carbondale-Marion – retained the least number of graduates.

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) program lets international students on F-1 study visas to work during or after graduation in the US for 12 months under the OPT program. Since 2008, the federal training program has quadrupled in size, with a 400 percent increase in international students graduating and working in STEM fields.

Pew’s data is based on 113 metro areas that had 2,000 or more international students approved for the OPT program from 2004 to 2016.

Here’s the list of metro areas receiving the top 10 highest number of international graduates who entered the area to work under the OPT program:

Metro area Number who
entered area
to work
Total number who
worked in area
following school
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 74,000 218,400
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 44,500 62,400
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 33,700 65,400
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 27,800 103,600
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 26,800 60,800
Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 22,600 73,000
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 21,800 59,000
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 20,500 34,500
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 19,200 48,500
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 16,600 32,400

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