The President of the United States of America, Barrack Obama recently announced plans to expand a training program for international students studying in the USA.
The plan is meant to give international students access to professional training and a chance to remain in the USA for a longer time after they graduate.
Expansion of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program
Obama plans to expand the federal Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. This training program allows international students to extend their visas for internships and training programs for certain fixed period of time.
As per Obama’s plan, the expansion of the OPT program will mean that international students with F-1 visas who earn U.S. degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math or STEM fields can extend their visas to remain and work in the USA for a period of up to 29 months after they become graduates.
For students in the other fields the extension of the OPT program is for a period of up to 12 months.
President Obama had expanded the STEM category in 2012 to include students from the fields of computer and information sciences.
Obama Wants International Students to Create Businesses in the USA
In support of his plan to expand the OPT program, President Obama has asked, “Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us?”
He further continued, “Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs here, create businesses here, create industries right here in America?”
Support for Obama’s OPT Program Expansion Plan
Supporters of the controversial OPT expansion plan have pointed out that the USA is experiencing a brain drain due to international students leaving the country right after getting their degrees.
They are of the view that a large number of foreign students come to the USA and receive their degrees in the STEM fields that are in high demand. But these students leave the country soon after finishing their academic programs and hence, do not contribute anything to the economy.
As per a new report from the Institute of International Education, there has been a significant increase in the number of foreign students pursuing streams of study in the STEM fields in the USA in the last few years.
Advocates of the OPT program expansion plan said that the president’s action recognizes the importance of having friendlier immigration policies that will open avenues for foreign students to stay and work in the USA. This will help in retaining the best and brightest graduates from the USA universities regardless of their citizenship, so that they can contribute to the country’s economy.
Criticism for Obama’s OPT Program Expansion Plan
The plan for expansion of the OPT program has met with criticism from several quarters. Opponents have pointed out several issues or raised several questions regarding the planned expansion. Among the main objections against the planned expansion of the OPT program are –
- No Increment in H1-B Visas or Green Cards: President Obama has not announced any increment in the number of H1-B visas for high skilled workers who are considered to be crucial for the technology industry. The president has also not announced any increase in the number of green cards granting permanent residency in the USA.
This has resulted in technology industry groups saying that it is just a temporary fix. They are of the opinion that the president’s approach falls short of what is actually required.
- No Support from Congress: Companies in the technology industry would prefer to have workers with longer visa terms. The planned expansion is not a long term solution. It is a way to extend the visas of foreign students without the support of Congress.
The technology executives in the USA have been facing a shortage of talent for the industry for quite some time now. An effective solution to the problem will be the increment of longer-term H1-B visas for skilled workers. However, that can be done only with the support of Congress.
- Low Wages for Graduates: The planned expansion may result in employers favouring foreign graduates to pay them low wages. This will result in native USA workers competing with the foreign graduates for jobs with low salaries.
Such a scenario can hurt the interest of the native USA graduates seeking jobs in the concerned industries.
Cities that Attract Foreign Students Opting for OPT Program
There are some cities in the USA that attract the maximum number of students opting for the OPT program as compared to the other cities. Let us have a look at some such cities:
Miami: This city attracts students from the banking world. Many graduates opting for OPT come to Miami to gather experience in jobs in the banking sector.
Seattle: The city of Seattle is known for having a large number of IT and software companies. Foreign students belonging to the IT and software fields come to study and work in this city.
New York: New York is the city that attracts students due to its large economy and scopes. There are opportunities for students from all fields, whether it is fashion or finance.
Las Vegas: This is a city that has lots of opportunities for students in the hospitality services industry. Students who want to work in hotels and tourism industry go to this city.
Honolulu: The city of Honolulu is also known to attract students from the hospitality services industry field for the various scopes it offers to the graduates who want to make their careers in this industry.