The Wall Street Journal reports that Department of Homeland Security records show 433,556 foreign graduates were cleared for temporary jobs in their academic field after finishing school in 2017—the equivalent of roughly half the total population of international students seeking U.S. degrees. Participation in the federal Optional Practical Training program, or OPT as it is known in higher education, allows new graduates to stay and work in the U.S. for one year, and the number of trainees has doubled in the past three years as American businesses struggle to fill more jobs requiring technical expertise.
The program is widely viewed as a steppingstone to coveted H-1B visas, which the government caps at 85,000 for private employers each year. Through OPT, graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics can extend their stays by an additional 24 months, further bolstering its appeal to students and employers. New York University hosted 6,199 OPT students last year, more than any other school tracked over the 2017 calendar year.
Semiconductor giant Intel Corp.hires 1,400 to 1,700 foreign graduates from U.S. masters and doctoral programs every year, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Matthew, virtually all of whom are authorized to work under the OPT program.
Immigration officials earlier this year revised the eligibility requirements for the kinds of jobs student-workers could legally perform, and in August moved to limit how much time students can remain in the country when they aren’t actively taking classes. Ms. Canty declined to comment on the new policy guidance, citing a lawsuit filed by several schools this fall to prevent them from taking effect. “Any changes to our student-visa process would have to go through the federal rule-making process,” she said.
Companies say they are feeling the effects of the heightened scrutiny. A July report from the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy found immigration authorities tripled the number of requests for further evidence justifying employers’ petitions for H-1B hires between the third and fourth quarters of fiscal 2017.