With the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden, many administration areas are expected to undergo reforms. The US Dept of Homeland Security has recently announced that a new committee will be formed to look into the Optional Practical Training work permit scheme. The OPT scheme has been a matter of debate for many years in the US now. Critics of this scheme argue that domestic students lose out on job opportunities due to international students’ rush in the USA. At the same time, advocates list several benefits resulting from a diverse pool of workers in the United States.
All you need to know about the Optional Practical Training visa
The Optional Practical Training is a scheme under which international students studying in the USA on F-1 Visas get a 12-month work permit after completing their degree. This scheme has benefitted international students in more ways than one. After one year, most of them get sponsored by their employers for a work visa. This time is essential for students to search the job market after their degree for employment opportunities.
In the year 2016, after many years of debate, a new rule was attached to the OPT scheme. Students belonging to STEM fields could apply for an extension of not 17 but 24 months beyond 12 months of stay. Graduate and postgraduates belonging to science, technology, engineering, math, or allied subjects listed on the official website are eligible for the extension. For all other fields of study, the duration of stay remains unaltered. Students on M-1 visas can also apply, but restrictions are stricter for them.
Changes to OPT scheme over the past
The STEM extension was introduced by homeland security in 2008 to direct lobbying by tech giants like Microsoft. This decision faced a couple of lawsuits, which included one from the New Jersey district court. IT workers from the Washington Alliance of Technology complained that the OPT extensions had resulted in employers’ unfair low wages for many of them. In 2015 the district court of Colombia nullified the 2008 regulations and ordered DHS to come up with better amendments. Finally, in 2016 the STEM extensions were finalized with an extra clause for the non-displacement of US workers.
In the wake of Covid 19, the anti-immigration government of Donald Trump suggested new restrictions on OPT. Many supporters from the Republican Party backed him. The economic slowdown and rise in unemployment among US citizens were his significant concerns. The new restrictions would have been explicitly aimed at Chinese students looking for jobs in the USA.
The ongoing debate related to work visa for international students
The OPT visa scheme has been a topic of debate for a long. Advocates of the OPT scheme argue that it creates more jobs in the market than taking away some. Allowing international students to work in the United States after completing their degrees does not take away Americans’ jobs. Most of these students belong to the STEM field and get employed in highly skilled jobs that are not very transferable. Moreover, this scheme helps the US job market attain a pool of better quality workers handpicked from across the globe. In March of 2020, owing to the high unemployment in the US market, many critics of the OPT visa urged then President Donald Trump to discontinue the same. According to the international students are eating away jobs, which is the primary reason for rising unemployment among US citizens. The longer they are allowed to stay after completing their education, the greater the strain on Americans looking for jobs.
Most recent developments in OPT scheme
Homeland security has issued a statement stating that they will take a closer look at OPT candidates to ensure that benefitting international students does not undermine US workers’ opportunities. Departments of US Immigration and Customs, US Department of Labor, and US Citizenship and Immigration Services will also be working cohesively to ensure this. Also, during the OPT period, duties, working hours, and compensation to foreign nationals will be made at par with their US counterparts. OPT Employment Compliance Unit will analyze such matters for each and every candidate and present a report at the end of 2021. This will help paint a better picture of the US job market and OPT scheme’s impact on the same.
Along with this, the new committee will also be responsible for monitoring unlawful practices by students and employers and report the same to the security department. If employers are discriminating among different nationalities, the wage gap in the market may go up. Hence, to monitor the market, it is essential to monitor the employers’ working as well.
Future of the OPT scheme
Although the optional practical training visa programs received a lot of backlash in 2020, it will not be discontinued. A majority in Congress voted in favor of this scheme, citing that it helps the USA attract the most skillful workers globally. The brain drain from other countries benefits the USA in more ways than one. Hence the future of OPT scheme still looks bright. Now, the main aim of Homeland Security is to attract foreign graduates in a manner that does not take away opportunities from US citizens.
Covid 19 has affected job markets across the globe. The USA is not an exception, as thousands of people got laid off during the pandemic’s early months. The international student community in the USA also faced many hardships due to the closing down of campuses. All in all interests of both parties are to be kept in mind while formulating the OPT scheme. We cannot discard the fact that international students pay a considerable fee to study in the USA, helping the economy. Hence work opportunity for them is fair compensation. Moreover, the extension of stay in STEM fields allows the sector of science and technology to grow faster in The States due to international students’ valuable inputs.