Foreign students in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields are allowed to work for three years in the United States after graduating from American universities via regulation STEM OPT (Optional Practical Training). They get an extra two years authorisation to work beyond the 12 months allowed for all foreign students. It’s also a vital pathway to further long-term work in the US by obtaining the H-1B status later.
At least, that was how it worked before the Trump era.
According to Forbes, the Trump administration may revoke this additional two-year period for STEM students, based on sources in the business and legal community.
— Laura D. Francis (@lauradfrancis) October 11, 2017
The OPT was extended from 17 months to two years by the Obama administration in a March 11, 2016 final rule. Rescinding this would affect at least 79 percent of all full-time graduate students in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science fields are international students, based on figures from the National Science Foundation, 2015 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates.
Forbes notes that getting rid of STEM OPT fits Trump’s pattern against foreigners. This can be seen through the elimination of protection for those who arrived in the US as immigrant children through DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the Buy American, Hire American executive order and a draft executive order that called for action against international students.
Ending STEM OPT would be a bad idea, however, according to a recent report from the National Foundation for American Policy which said the economic and legal justification for such a move is “weak or even unlawful”.
The report wrote:
“The presence in America of international students is crucial for retaining top faculty and keeping programs available for US students.”
The foundation said it is possible that the 12 months of OPT granted to all international students may be at risk of being revoked as well.
Changing the STEM OPT system is expected to impact US universities and companies.
Currently, foreign students allow many US universities to run their high-quality graduate programmes, as these schools will not be able to do so with only 15 to 25 American students. In order to attract and retain faculty, these programmes rely on large numbers of graduate students to conduct research.
— The PIE News (@ThePIENews) October 11, 2017
Removing STEM OPT would take away the opportunity for foreign students to be able to learn outside of the classroom as it is a form of practical training for them, a situation that would make competing countries like Australia and Canada, more attractive to foreign students instead.
“Eliminating STEM OPT would have a chilling effect on international students, causing many to rethink applying to US universities,” Oregon State University’s Division of International Programs assistant director Jackie Bangs said.
Companies, on the other hand, would be forced to alter their recruiting practices, according to the report. US companies are expected to recruit foreign students to work outside the US, as without an H-1B visa they would not be able to work in America.