The sun has been shining bright for foreign students pursuing higher education at recognized US colleges and universities since the White House announced that US-educated foreign nationals would be given preference for H1B visa over foreigners with native education early in 2019. The new H1B visa rules, which came into effect in April 2019 with good prospects for foreign students studying advanced degrees in the United States, made the American sun shine brighter for them.
Bright opportunities for foreign students in the US seem to be enveloped by some dark clouds casting their shadow over the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, a pathway to H1B visa.
Four Republican Congressmen are seeking to end the Optional Practical Training, a federal government program in order to save Jobs for American students. OPT makes foreign graduates of US schools eligible to work in the US for up to three years. OPT for US-educated foreign students, is what H4 EAD for qualified spouses of H1B professionals. To be precise, the Optional Practical Training program is the first stepping stone for them towards realizing their American Dreams.
Republican Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs o Arizona; Mo Brooks of Alabama; and Matt Gaetz of Florida introduced the Fairness for High-Skilled Americans Act (HR 4644) in the House of Representatives on July 22, as the first step to end the OPT for foreign students in the USA. The bill ‘HR 4644’ which currently sits with the House Judiciary Committee also opposes the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, which California’s Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has sponsored in order to scrap the per-country limit on issuance of employment-based immigrant visas.
The bill was originally brought in the year 2019 by Republican Paul Gosar who was also planning to write to the then President Donald Trump and seek his executive order to eliminate the OPT for foreign graduates, including over 96,000 Indian students in USA. The Fairness for High-Skilled Americans Act proposes an amendment to the Immigration and National Act to bar them from working under the Optional Practical Training program. The suggested amendment reads:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no alien present in the United States as a non-immigrant may be provided employment authorization in the United States pursuant to the Optional Practical Training Program, or any such successor program, without an express Act of Congress authorizing such a program.”
From 2004 to 2016, nearly 1.5 million foreign graduates of U.S. schools, including Indian students were granted permission to work under the OPT, according to the Pew Research Center in Washington DC. In 2008, the US government increased the period of time that foreign students in America could stay and work for, and thereby fuelled the popularity of the Optional Practical Training program by a whopping 400%.
San Jose and San Francisco are home to a majority of US-educated foreign graduates under the federal government program. In the past few years, foreign students going for the OPT program outnumbered H1B visa applicants, as per the Pew reports. However, enrollment for work permit under the OPT program registered a slow growth in 2017.
Though the number of foreign graduates who received work permit under the OPT program rose from 257,100 in 2016 to 276,500 in 2017, there was a slowdown in the growth of the program from 34% in 2016 to 8% in 2017.
Republican Paul Gosar’s Fairness for High-Skilled Americans Act ignores the fact that international students on extended F1 visa under the Optional Practical Training for up to 3 years made a $39-billion contribution to the US economy and created 455,000 jobs in the academic year 2017-2018 alone, according to Niskanen Center think-tank in Washington DC. Every seven foreign students in the USA create and support three American jobs.