The number of foreign students and graduates participating in the Optional Training Program (OPT) hit an all-time high during the 2017-18 school year with more than 200,000 foreign students and graduates working in the U.S. OPT allows foreign students and graduates to work in the United States for 12 months (up to 36 months for students in STEM fields) to gain on-the-job experience.

The OPT program often provides a bridge for foreign students and employers to the H-1B high-skilled visa program and is now bigger than the H-1B program. Its existence puts native-born graduates at a disadvantage upon graduating and entering the job market because employers can save on payroll taxes by hiring foreign students and graduates.

Interestingly, the number of foreign students studying in the United States dropped by about 10% in 2017-18 compared to the previous year, despite the continued rise in the number of OPT work permits that have been issued.

Despite the record number of OPT permits, the number of permits issued annually dropped in 2017-18 compared to previous years. However, the Obama Administration extended the amount of time that foreign students and graduates in STEM fields could work in the United States in 2015, so employers in STEM fields have been able to keep their OPT hires for a longer period of time.

The OPT program is not statutorily authorized. The program was started by the George W. Bush administration and has been continued by both Presidents Obama and Trump.

For more information on this story, see The Mercury News.


Updated: Fri, Nov 30th 2018 @ 11:55am EST