The number of foreign graduates of U.S. colleges and universities who obtained temporary authorization to work in the country increased in 2017, but the growth in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, through which the short-term employments take place, has declined.
Growth in the OPT program, which had surpassed the H-1B visa route as the largest source of highly skilled temporary foreign workers in the United States, has slowed dramatically, according to a Pew Research Center report based on the analysis of government data.
About 276,500 foreign graduates received work permits in 2017, which marked a record number of enrollments under the OPT program. The corresponding number in 2016 was 257,100, the report said, citing data obtained from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement through a public records request.
However, the Trump administration’s tightening of the rules that govern the OPT program has resulted in a slowdown in growth, the report showed. The number of students grew by 8 percent in 2017, while the growth was 34 percent in 2016. This marked the largest decline in the annual growth rate since 2004, the first year for which data on all foreign students are available. From 2014 to 2016, the number of enrollments nearly doubled in size, growing by 93 percent.
“OPT enrollment growth slowed substantially in 2017 among foreign students from India and China, the program’s two largest countries of origin,” the report said.
The number of Indian graduates under OPT saw the maximum drop in growth in 2017, declining by 55 per cent in 2016-2017 as compared to the 2015-2016. The number of OPT approvals in the United States for Indian students was 61,000 in 2015, which rose to 104,600 in 2016, marking a growth of 71 percent in 2015-16. The corresponding number was recorded as 122,100 in 2017, showing a growth of only 17 percent in 2016-17.
India, however, remained the top source of foreign students for the program, followed by China, which sent 58,100 students in 2015, with the numbers increasing to 68,800 in 2016 and 69,200 in 2017.
“Only France, Nepal and Nigeria saw their annual growth rates increase in 2017 (among nations with 10,000 or more foreign students enrolled in OPT from 2004 to 2017),” the Pew report said.
Growth in the number of foreign graduates under OPT slowed in 2017 across all degree levels, according to the report. However, the trend was most distinct among master’s degree holders. The number of foreign students holding master’s degrees was about 188,600 in 2017, a 9 percent increase over the previous year. In comparison, the increase during the previous year was 45 percent. This slowdown was preceded by a period of rapid growth: From 2014 to 2015, the number of foreign students with master’s degrees jumped by 57 percent, the highest annual increase of any degree level since 2004, the report said.