H-1B restrictions no deterrent to foreign college grads
The Optional Practical Training program (OPT) is similar to the H-1B visa program in that both were designed to attract highly skilled foreign workers in the U.S. OPT, however, is the program for college and graduate level students attending a U.S. college. About 53% of those graduates are granted approval for jobs within science, technology, engineering and math, according to a Pew Research report from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data.
The OPT program was given employment extensions in 2008 and 2016, reaching up to 36 months for those with degrees in STEM. Because of this, STEM graduates enrolling in the program have increased by 400% since 2008, according to the report. About 34% of OPT graduates have a doctorate in engineering.
Though the OPT and H-1B programs fall in line for a similar goal, the OPT program has outpaced H-1B visas in approvals since about 2012. OPT applicants are not required to provide employer sponsorship like the H-1B program. Additionally, OPT does not have a cap on approvals, unlike H-1B's 65,000 annual cap.
The OPT program fundamentally lays the groundwork for graduates to apply for an H-1B visa once their employment allotment has expired. However, there is not necessarily preferred treatment for former OPT holders in obtaining an H-1B visa, according to Pew.
The H-1B program adopted a lottery program after the annual cap rate spilled over year after year. But there has been a recent squeeze on the H-1B program, making the application process more difficult.
The H-4 visa was designed for spouses of H-1B holders to be able to work in the U.S., but the Trump administration may not continue the program because it says that visa could jeopardize job access for American citizens.
Despite these challenges, the cap was met after five days of opening the enrollment process this year. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received about 190,100 petitions, less than 2017's 199,000 petitions and 2016's 236,000.
Follow Samantha Ann Schwartz on Twitter