Expanding Opportunities for Foreign STEM Grads


Today, over one million students from foreign countries are pursuing their educations in the United States. And according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), about 38 percent of these students are studying in STEM fields, earning degrees in one of the fastest-growing sectors in the American economy. Despite the demand for STEM-educated workers, many of these students have limited options if they want to remain in the United States after graduation. One of these options, the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, extends the F-1 student visa for a short period to offer graduates a runway to gain additional on-the-job skills, and hopefully, secure a longer-term visa sponsored by an employer. Last month, DHS announced it was reviewing this program and proposed to extend this 12 month runway by 24 months, specifically for STEM graduates.

Engine supports the proposed OPT extension for STEM-educated graduates. It may seem like a nominal change, but this extra time could radically change the career prospects for many of the world’s most talented young workers. For careers in information technology and software engineering, this kind of on-the-job, applied training is an important aspect of a post-graduate education. Further, by granting F-1 visa holders slightly more time in the U.S., these graduates may also have a better shot at finding an employer willing to sponsor a visa for more permanent work authorization.

Foreign students compete fiercely for admission into American universities, where they’re exposed to some of the world’s best technical and entrepreneurial training. Yet more often than not, it’s illegal for them to remain in the U.S. and dedicate their talents to American companies or even launch their own new ventures here. It makes no sense for the U.S. to continue training the world’s brightest and best, only to send them back home or to other countries with more welcoming immigration policies. While there remains a desperate need for large scale reform to allow foreign students to remain in the U.S. full time to contribute their much needed abilities to growing the U.S. tech economy, the OPT extension is an important step towards helping the U.S. retain talented individuals.

Share your support for the proposal with DHS on or before November 18, 2015 by submitting comments here.