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Report: Use of OPT temporary graduate jobs program has exploded

According to the Association of International Educators, foreign students in the U.S. paid $37 billion in tuition and living expenses during the 2016-2017 academic year alone. U.S. institutions of higher education enjoy the largest population of foreign students in the world. One key factor to that success is the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which authorizes foreign students to work temporarily in the U.S. after they graduate.

A new study by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., demonstrates how popular the program has become. Over the last 12 years, the study found, participation in the program has grown by nearly 400 percent. There were 45,000 participants in 2004 and 172,000 in 2016.

Unfortunately, enrollment by foreign students in U.S. colleges and universities has been declining over the past two years. According to the Institute for International Education, new enrollments have dropped by 7 percent due to new travel restrictions, anti-immigrant rhetoric by the administration, and competition from colleges and universities in Canada, Britain and Australia.

Groups like the Institute say that the OPT program has been crucial in attracting students, particularly in the fields of science and engineering, and keeping them in the United States. The success of the program has been driven by tech companies hiring more science and engineering majors through the program. This, in turn, has helped drive innovation in the U.S.

The program does have its critics. Some argue that the OPT program puts American students at a disadvantage because OPT employers don't have to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes for the foreign students. That gives a temporary financial advantage to non-U.S. workers.

There has also been some indication that President Trump may perceive the program as offering an advantage to foreign students. Although no details have been released, the Associated Press says that the Trump administration has been considering changes to OPT.

"The US will significantly lose its edge in science and innovation if international students in the sciences and engineering chose to go to other countries that have very strong and attractive post-study opportunities," warns the Institute for International Education.

"[OPT is] good for international students, it's good for employers, it's also good for the U.S. institutions that are trying to be more attractive to international students," added a spokesperson for the American Council on Education, which represents some 1,800 college and university presidents.

If you are an international student in the U.S., you may be able to work in the States for a temporary period after you graduate. To discuss OPT or other options for post-graduate work, contact an immigration attorney today.

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