Foreign nationals who are in the U.S. in F-1 student status are

often eligible to engage in employment after completing their

academic program in what is referred to as Optional Practical

Training (OPT). As a result of the current high unemployment rate

in the U.S., the Trump Administration is currently reviewing the

F-1 OPT program, and is considering taking action to suspend or

limit the program until U.S. unemployment has declined. Within

President Trump's April 22, 2020 proclamation, there was a

provision that tasked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and

U.S. Department of Labor to review nonimmigrant visa programs and

recommend certain measures be taken to possibly suspenSuspending or

limiting the F-1 OPT program would likely have a negative impact on

the U.S. It would weaken its competitiveness and hinder economic

recovery. Foreign nationals who participate in the F-1 OPT program

bring skills and talent that are desperately needed, and that the

U.S. labor force is unable to provide. In addition, suspending or

limiting the F-1 OPT program would result in other countries

benefiting from the education provided to these F-1 students by

U.S. colleges and universities, and in some cases, may result in

these foreign nationals and the overseas companies they may work

for to compete against the U.S. and its interests.

d or limit these programs in order to stimulate the U.S. economy

and ensure the employment of U.S. workers. As a result, a new

Presidential Proclamation possibly limiting the ability of F-1

students to engage in OPT may be issued soon.

Several Republican senators have requested the Trump

Administration suspend not only the F-1 OPT program but have

requested all guest worker programs be suspended due to the

COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the American economy. On May 7,

Senators Tom Cotton (Arkansas), Ted Cruz (Texas), Chuck Grassley

(Iowa), and Josh Hawley (Missouri) sent a a letter to President

Trump specifically requesting a sixty-day suspension on

nonimmigrant guest worker visas, followed by a continued suspension

for one year or until national unemployment figures return to

normal levels.1

However, a recent study by the National Foundation for American

Policy [NFAP] has revealed the OPT program does not reduce job

opportunities for U.S. workers.2

Moreover, the study found that OPT “is a win-win for foreign

students and U.S. employers alike. The program offers employers a

chance to see if foreign students are a good fit before sponsoring

them for a costly – and scarce – H-1B temporary visa. The OPT

program gives foreign students (and their employers) multiple shots

at obtaining an H-1B visa . . . .”3

Other sources indicate that eliminating the F-1 OPT program

could negatively impact the U.S. economy in the long-term. The

Business Roundtable has published a study on the contributions of

the F-1 OPT program to the U.S. economy, and the potential impact

of curtailing the program.4 The

Business Roundtable found that reducing the issuance of

foreign-national F-1 student visas by thirty-five percent (35%) and

F-1 OPT participation by sixty percent (60%) would shrink U.S.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by a quarter of a percentage point by

2028, and lead to the loss of 443,000 jobs. The report defends the

F-1 OPT program by arguing that “as new industries emerge that

will play an increasingly important role in the

21st-century economy, it is critical that U.S.

immigration policies continue to attract the best and brightest

students from around the world.”5

Many American businesses have expressed their support for the

F-1 OPT program, including eBay, Facebook, EY, Microsoft, and

Apple.6 Businesses support the

program because F-1 students on OPT help to fill in critical

“skills gaps” that have resulted from a lack of trained

U.S. workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)

fields. As one Forbes article explains: “[Leading]

trends in our higher education suggest that the U.S. is fast

approaching a STEM crisis like no other – one that systematically

benefits foreign countries and companies, at the expense of our

own.”7 Moreover, the Society

for Human Resource Management reports that “careers in

science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are at the heart

of the skills gap in America.”8 Finally, an editorial by a software

company manager argues that “restricting OPT would be

disastrous for international students in the U.S. and it would

discourage students from around the world from studying here. The

U.S. is already losing many needed STEM-degree students to other

developed countries.”9

Universities and educational associations such as the American

Council on Education have also endorsed retaining the F-1 OPT

program and have argued that the Administration's concerns over

the security risk posed by Chinese students is overstated. They

argue that they have effective security protocols and that, as

experts in their subject fields, Chinese students help to bolster

U.S. research.10 Moreover,

suspending or eliminating the F-1 OPT program would produce severe

economic repercussions for universities without significant name

recognition, who will find it difficult to attract talented

students without the possibility of providing them with work

authorizations.11

Finally, as a recent Law360 article has noted, there is little

overlap between the jobs lost in the wake of COVID-19 and those

that F-1 students often engage in while in their OPT period. For

instance, in April 2020, over 20 million jobs were lost in the U.S.

Of the 20 million jobs lost, 7.7 million of these jobs were in the

hospitality and leisure sectors. These are jobs that are in the

service industry, and would not be the type of positions that would

likely qualify for F-1 OPT employment, since the employment must

relate to the academic program the F-1 student completed in the

U.S.12

Suspending or limiting the F-1 OPT program would likely have a

negative impact on the U.S. It would weaken its competitiveness and

hinder economic recovery. Foreign nationals who participate in the

F-1 OPT program bring skills and talent that are desperately

needed, and that the U.S. labor force is unable to provide. In

addition, suspending or limiting the F-1 OPT program would result

in other countries benefiting from the education provided to these

F-1 students by U.S. colleges and universities, and in some cases,

may result in these foreign nationals and the overseas companies

they may work for to compete against the U.S. and its

interests.

Footnotes

2. Madeline Zavodny.

“International Students, STEM OPT, and the U.S. Stem

Workforce.” NFAP Policy Brief, March 2019: https://nfap.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/International-Students-STEM-OPT-And-The-US-STEM-Workforce.NFAP-Policy-Brief.March-2019.pdf

3. Zavodny, 18.

4. Business Roundtable. “The

Economic Impact of Curbing the Optional Practical Training

Program.” Business Roundtable: https://www.businessroundtable.org/policy-perspectives/immigration/economic-impact-curbing-optional-practical-training-program

5. Business

Roundtable.

6. Suzanne Monyak. “Postgrad

Visa Restrictions Likely To Curb Economic Growth.”

Law360 (June 4, 2020): https://www.law360.com/articles/1279947/postgrad-visa-restrictions-likely-to-curb-economic-growth

7. Arthur Herman.

“America's High-Tech STEM Crisis.” Forbes

(September 10, 2018):

https://www.forbes.com/sites/arthurherman/2018/09/10/americas-high-tech-stem-crisis/#689539f8f0a2

8. Rick Lazio and Harold Ford,

Jr. “The U.S. Needs to Prepare Workers for STEM

Jobs.”

9. Marian Faye. “Ending

program for foreign students could worsen America's STEM worker

shortage.” Houston Chronicle (January 9, 2020): https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/Ending-program-for-foreign-students-could-worsen-14958935.php

10. Edward Wong and Julian E.

Barnes. “U.S. to Expel Chinese Graduate Students With Ties to

China's Military Schools.” New York Times (May

28, 2020): https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/28/us/politics/china-hong-kong-trump-student-visas.html

11. Monyak.

12. Monyak.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general

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