How 17-month STEM OPT extension influenced international student enrollment trends?

USCIS defines Optional Practical Training (OPT) as temporary employment that is directly related to major area of study of international students on F-1 visa. It is a valuable experiential opportunity for 12 months at each education level–bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral. Beginning April 2008, USCIS took a progressive step by allowing students enrolled in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related fields to get additional 17 months of OPT. This not only helped U.S. become more attractive for international students seeking to gain some work experience but more importantly it became a talent attraction and retention tool. Employers also found to be of value as they can have a longer working relationship before deciding on H-1 visa sponsorship.

Given that OPT extension is applicable to STEM related fields, it influenced some countries more than the others. For example, over 70% of Indian students are enrolled in STEM related fields (Engineering, Math, Computer Science or Physical/Life Sciences). Likewise, nearly half of all Nepalese students and 44% of Turkish students are enrolled in STEM related fields. This is one explanatory factor for high growth is OPT enrollment for Indian, Nepalese and Turkish students.

Recent momentum about the immigration reform and allocation of green card to STEM graduates is going to make the U.S. even more attractive for international students and provides logical pathways for retaining talent. Here is an excellent report on the state of STEM education in the U.S.

(copyright) Dr. Rahul Choudaha