[00:00.00]A new report says a United States government program for foreign students has been expanding in recent years.
[00:11.33]The government’s Optional Practical Training, or OPT program was set up to help foreign students graduating from American colleges and universities.
[00:27.01]It gives them a chance to stay in the country for temporary employment after they complete their studies.
[00:36.88]The report is from the Washington-based Pew Research Center.
[00:43.51]It notes that many foreign students take classes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
[00:53.78]These four subjects are known by a single term: STEM.
[01:00.56]The center noted that, under OPT, the number of foreign students graduating and working in STEM fields rose 400 percent between 2008 and 2016.
[01:18.82]The federal program enables F-1 visa holders who complete school to remain in the United States and work for up to one year.
[01:30.97]Two years ago, the program began permitting graduates in STEM fields to work an additional 24 months.
[01:41.11]In 2016, about 172,000 foreign nationals got a job through OPT.
[01:52.01]The program had 45,000 students in 2008, and 73,000 in 2014.
[02:02.25]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.
[02:17.26]More than half of foreign graduates in the program specialized in STEM fields.
[02:25.79]From 2004 to 2016, about 74 percent of OPT approvals were citizens of Asian countries, the Pew study found.
[02:39.15]Students from India, China and South Korea made up 57 percent of the total.
[02:48.02]Graduates from Europe were the second-largest group, with an eight percent total.
[02:56.07]Another eight percent were from Latin America and the Caribbean, while five percent were from Africa.
[03:04.70]The Optional Practical Training program is not as well-known as the U.S. government’s H-1B visa program.
[03:14.23]But the number of people taking part in OPT is much larger.
[03:20.71]Under the H-1B program, foreign workers are permitted to stay in the U.S. for up to six years.
[03:31.24]After this time, H-1B visa holders must either return to their home country or seek permission to stay permanently.
[03:42.40]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.
[03:56.29]The H-1B program is designed to employ foreign workers in jobs requiring “specialized knowledge,” according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
[04:11.86]Many of these jobs are filled by people with STEM backgrounds.
[04:18.09]Pew Research Center reports that in 2016, about 257,000 people took part in the OPT program.
[04:29.74]By comparison, the H-1B program is limited to a total of 85,000 people per year.
[04:40.56]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.
[05:01.89]The United States has the largest foreign student population in the world.
[05:08.35]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.
[05:24.68]But foreign student enrollment at U.S. colleges is reported to have dropped since the presidential election in 2016.
[05:37.15]Last November, the Institute of International Education released results of a study involving nearly 500 colleges and universities.
[05:49.12]They were asked to provide enrollment numbers for the 2017-2018 school year.
[05:57.49]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.
[06:20.78]In addition, the group says American colleges also are facing increasing competition from countries like Canada, Australia and Britain.
[06:34.80]The U.S. government has also considered making changes to the H-1B and F-1 visa programs.
[06:43.94]Officials have said the changes would aim to prevent foreign nationals from taking jobs away from American workers.
[06:54.84]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.
[07:22.28] 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.
[07:40.20]The association’s director, Esther Brimmer, said that it is important to realize there is “increasing global competition” for international student talent.
[07:54.70]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.