- Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows international students to work in the United States for one year (all students) or three years (STEM students) after graduating.
- Some legislators and federal officials have advocated suspending OPT in response to the COVID-19 crisis and its economic impacts.
- Skilled immigrants make critical contributions to America’s economy, and international students are an important source of immigrant talent.
- Studies show that high-skilled immigrants increase native-born workers’ wages, create jobs, and boost innovation and productivity.
- Tech companies founded by former international students, such as SpaceX and Cloudflare, employ tens of thousands of Americans and directly contribute to U.S. national security and military capability.
- According to CSET analysis, 68% of America’s top 50 artificial intelligence (AI) startups were founded or co-founded by immigrants, most of whom arrived as students.
- OPT participants do not “crowd out” native-born Americans.
- In the high-tech sector, which employs most OPT holders, the available evidence suggests that relatively few Americans are out of work. In May 2020, the unemployment rate in computing occupations was 2.5%, a decrease from pre-COVID levels of 3%.
- Economists find that “there is no evidence that foreign students participating in [OPT] reduce job opportunities for U.S. workers.” In strategic fields like AI, there is significant evidence that U.S. employers need many more skilled workers than the native-born population can supply.
- Federal and state initiatives to train native-born workers for STEM jobs are important and should be expanded, but will take years to have a significant effect in industries where OPT is currently used. Suspending OPT in the meantime would cause U.S. employers to lose tens of thousands of skilled employees, causing immediate harm to the economy and supply chain security.
- Canceling OPT will directly benefit China’s technology ambitions.
- Chinese technology strategists say U.S. immigration restrictions give China critical opportunities “to bolster its ranks of high-end talent.”
- Currently, OPT is often the only way for America to retain skilled immigrants.
- Green cards and better-known visas, such as H-1B visas, are numerically capped at low levels (set in 1990) and are difficult to get. Because of this, many American employers must use OPT to recruit needed talent.
- Chip maker Intel says that “without OPT, we would be able to hire just 30 percent of the highly skilled graduates we currently hire.” Suspending or eliminating OPT will cause labor shortages that undermine plans to manufacture more advanced semiconductors in the United States.
- In a May 2020 letter, 324 American companies and business organizations emphasized that restricting OPT would endanger U.S. economic recovery and native-born employment.
- On balance, suspending OPT would not benefit native-born Americans affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Rather, it would very likely destroy more jobs for native-born citizens than it creates, and undermine innovation and supply chain security.
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