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Study: US Job Program for Foreign Students Greatly Expands

2018-05-16

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  • A new report says a United States government program for foreign students has been expanding in recent years.
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  • The government’s Optional Practical Training, or OPT program was set up to help foreign students graduating from American colleges and universities.
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  • It gives them a chance to stay in the country for temporary employment after they complete their studies.
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  • The report is from the Washington-based Pew Research Center.
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  • It notes that many foreign students take classes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
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  • These four subjects are known by a single term: STEM.
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  • The center noted that, under OPT, the number of foreign students graduating and working in STEM fields rose 400 percent between 2008 and 2016.
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  • The federal program enables F-1 visa holders who complete school to remain in the United States and work for up to one year.
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  • Two years ago, the program began permitting graduates in STEM fields to work an additional 24 months.
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  • In 2016, about 172,000 foreign nationals got a job through OPT.
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  • The program had 45,000 students in 2008, and 73,000 in 2014.
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  • The numbers are based on information provided to Pew by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, through a Freedom of Information Act request.
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  • More than half of foreign graduates in the program specialized in STEM fields.
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  • From 2004 to 2016, about 74 percent of OPT approvals were citizens of Asian countries, the Pew study found.
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  • Students from India, China and South Korea made up 57 percent of the total.
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  • Graduates from Europe were the second-largest group, with an eight percent total.
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  • Another eight percent were from Latin America and the Caribbean, while five percent were from Africa.
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  • The Optional Practical Training program is not as well-known as the U.S. government’s H-1B visa program.
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  • But the number of people taking part in OPT is much larger.
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  • Under the H-1B program, foreign workers are permitted to stay in the U.S. for up to six years.
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  • After this time, H-1B visa holders must either return to their home country or seek permission to stay permanently.
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  • Working a temporary job through OPT is seen as a first step for many people hoping to receive an H-1B visa at a later date.
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  • The H-1B program is designed to employ foreign workers in jobs requiring “specialized knowledge,” according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
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  • Many of these jobs are filled by people with STEM backgrounds.
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  • Pew Research Center reports that in 2016, about 257,000 people took part in the OPT program.
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  • By comparison, the H-1B program is limited to a total of 85,000 people per year.
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  • Pew noted that one reason for the rise in OPT numbers is because the number of new students on F-1 visas at U.S. colleges went up 104 percent from 2008 to 2016.
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  • The United States has the largest foreign student population in the world.
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  • Neil Ruiz, a co-author of the report, says the OPT program has been an important tool in getting foreign students to attend U.S. schools and keep them here after they graduate.
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  • But foreign student enrollment at U.S. colleges is reported to have dropped since the presidential election in 2016.
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  • Last November, the Institute of International Education released results of a study involving nearly 500 colleges and universities.
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  • They were asked to provide enrollment numbers for the 2017-2018 school year.
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  • On average, the results found a 7 percent drop in the number of newly-enrolled foreign students at U.S. schools.
  • [06:07.32]
  • The institute says the drop is likely a result of government policies that seek to limit immigration and restrict travel from some mostly Muslim countries.
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  • In addition, the group says American colleges also are facing increasing competition from countries like Canada, Australia and Britain.
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  • The U.S. government has also considered making changes to the H-1B and F-1 visa programs.
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  • Officials have said the changes would aim to prevent foreign nationals from taking jobs away from American workers.
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  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced plans to carry out “comprehensive reform” of practical training programs in an effort “to reduce fraud and abuse.”
  • [07:09.33]
  • The Association of International Educators estimated the economic effects of more than one million international students in the U.S.
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  • Its study found that the students added about $37 billion to the U.S. economy and supported 450,000 jobs during the 2016-2017 school year.
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  • The association’s director, Esther Brimmer, said that it is important to realize there is “increasing global competition” for international student talent.
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  • She urged U.S. officials to strengthen policies that center on “our nation’s founding ideals of inclusivity and opportunity."
  • [08:06.08]
  • I'm Alice Bryant.
  • [08:08.18]
  • And I’m Bryan Lynn.
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