“More foreign grads of U.S. colleges are staying in the country to work”

5/18/2017
Pew Research Center


“A growing number of high-skilled foreign workers find jobs in the United States under a program known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows foreign graduates from U.S. universities to work in the country on a temporary basis. The federal government approved nearly 700,000 OPT applications in fiscal years 2008 through 2014…Data suggest that the total number of foreign graduates using OPT may continue to increase in subsequent years…

“…U.S. college graduates with F-1 visas for foreign students may apply to OPT, and those approved may work in the U.S. for up to 12 months in their field of study. Foreign students majoring in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field may work in the U.S. for longer – up to 36 months. Unlike other U.S. visa programs, OPT has no cap on the number of foreign graduates who can participate. OPT is not subject to congressional oversight, though the program, which was created in 1947, can be changed by a U.S. president.

“Here are some key facts about foreign college graduates working in the U.S. under the Optional Practical Training program.

  1. “The annual number of OPT approvals rose from 28,497 in fiscal 2008 to 136,617 in fiscal 2014, a nearly fivefold increase.

  2. “…Nearly as many people are approved for the OPT program as receive H-1B visas…

  3. “…STEM graduates made up nearly half (49%) of all those who were approved for OPT and were seeking employment in calendar years 2012 through 2015. 

  4. “…Those with STEM majors had a higher employment rate (73%) than non-STEM majors (57%) in the OPT program from 2012 to 2015. 

  5. “…Foreign students from India (72,151) and China (68,847) accounted for more than half (57%) of all those who were approved for OPT and found jobs from 2012 to 2015. 

  6. “…Graduates in STEM fields accounted for at least 70% of OPT approvals from India, Iran, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka from 2012 to 2015.

  7. “…Just 4% of those employed under the OPT program from 2012 to 2015 worked at the 10 largest tech companies in the Fortune 500. 

  8. “…The 10 universities with the most OPT approvals accounted for 13% of all program participants seeking employment from 2012 to 2015…” 

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