Slowdown in rate of growth of international students applying to work in US
They'd rather leave. Source: AFP/Robyn Beck

International students aren’t applying to stay in the US to work as much as they used to, data from Pew Research Center showed.

The growth in the number of international students enrolling in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program – which grants work permits to this group of students during or after graduation in the US for up to 36 months – is a fraction of what it used to be in previous years.

“The number of enrollees grew by 8 percent in 2017,” Pew reported, “compared with 34 percent in 2016.”

The report’s lead author Neil Ruiz said the rate of growth of foreign graduates staying in the US to work posted its largest drop in 13 years last year.

International students on F-1 study visas are allowed to work during or after graduation in the US for 12 months under the OPT program. Those with STEM degrees from Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified and accredited US colleges and universities are eligible for a further 24-month OPT extension.

In 2016, there were 257,604 OPT approvals, twice the figure in 2014 and more than three times of 2008. According to the independent research group, 2017 saw a record 276,500 international graduates receiving work permits.

The Institute of International Education (IIE) senior adviser for research and strategy Rajika Bhandari told VOA News the slower growth in OPT enrollment follows international student enrollment in US colleges and universities.

“It is not surprising that OPT enrollment would begin to taper as international student enrollment also began to slow,” Bhandari said.

In 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, the number of international students in the country grew 10 percent and 7.1 percent respectively. In 2016-2017, these figures dropped to 3.4 percent, according to IIE’s Open Doors annual report on international students in the US. Preliminary figures for 2017-2018 suggest a further decline of almost seven percent, according to Pew.

“The slowing down of overall international student enrollments is attributable to a mix of factors, including competition from higher education systems across the world and changes to government-funded scholarships in Saudi Arabia and Brazil – both among the top 10 sending countries to the United States.”

Canadian municipality Montreal is actively promoting attractive policies to help international students at its universities to remain and work there. Source: Shutterstock

The US faces competition from countries like Australia, Canada, and Germany as well, which have come up with attractive post-graduation rights for international students to remain and work in their countries.

Industry figures have also attributed other factors such as the travel ban on immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries and restrictions to international student visa programs.

For institutions in the Midwest and Texas – where the decrease in enrollment is most pronounced – it is possibly due to the lack of reputation those schools have overseas and even due to fear about a state law allowing guns on campus, according to Rajika.

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