Any change will impact job prospects of more than 2.5 lakh Indian graduates in the US.
After H-1B, it could be optional practical training (OPT) that could be the next visa that could be targeted to address unemployment issues. This will have direct implication on the Indian students pursuing higher studies in the country.
According to media reports, the Department of Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf has said that the organisation is reviewing temporary visa workers programme including curbs on H-1B and OPT as per the executive order American President Donald Trump signed recently. The concern about OPT was directed towards Chinese students using it to settle in the country.
The execution order suspended immigration for 60 days and mandated review of temporary worker visa policy in a bid to address rising unemployment issue in the US due to COVID-19. There are about 26 million Americans who are unemployed.
What is OPT?
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services defines OPT as a temporary employment that can be availed by foreign students (F-1 visa) before or after the completion of studies. The time period of OPT is one year. However if you are a Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) student, you can get additional 24 month extension.
In essence STEM graduates get three years of temporary employment in the US. This is beneficial for both company and student as they are exempted from paying taxes. According DHS site, STEM OPT participant is not considered a resident for five calendar years in F-1 status. So companies that hire are saving in taxes.
Benefit for Indian students
Indian students are one of the biggest beneficiaries along with the Chinese. There are about 2,50,00 Indian graduates in the US. According to a report by Breitbart, close to 70,000 Indian graduates got work permits for OPT jobs in 2018.
In addition, many of these jobs become permanent and converted to H-1B visa, the most coveted skilled immigrant worker visa. There are over 5,00,000 H-1B degree holders waiting for their green card and few lakh more H-1B worker in the US. There was no separate data for those moving to H-1B through the OPT route.
This is in part why OPT is under fire. However any change in the programme will hurt employment prospects of Indian STEM graduates there.
US Tech Workers, a not for profit organisation that represents tech workers, said in a tweet that OPT is not scrutinized. “You don't need to have a job offer to apply for OPT (some universities don't enforce that requirement). You can also be unemployed on OPT and face no scrutiny. That's how relaxed the laws around OPT are. Many are using OPT permits to drive for Uber,” the tweet said.
Will curb on OPT help?
A Businessroundtable.org reports that, “If the administration introduces policy changes, that would lead to a 35 percent reduction in the issuance of foreign-born student visas and a 60 percent decline in OPT participation by 2020, the effect on the U.S. economy would be negative.”
The reports further added that since only international students in the US can avail OPT, participants are young and perfectly positioned to contribute to economic growth.
For instance, 1 percent increase in immigrant college graduates leads to a 15 percent increase in patents per capita. The report also suggests that this also spurs starting of new businesses and expansion of labour market benefiting the US economy.