International Students, STEM OPT and the U.S. STEM Workforce

Madeline Zavodny
Date of Publication: 
March, 2019
Source Organization: 
National Foundation for American Policy

The Trump administration has put on its regulatory agenda a regulation to be released potentially in 2019 or 2020 that would place new restrictions on the ability of foreign students to work temporarily in the U.S. via the OptionalPractical Training (OPT) program. Since the stated purpose of the regulation would be to “improve protections of U.S. workers who may be negatively impacted by” foreign students doing OPT, this economic analysis of the impact of such students on U.S. workers may help policymakers assess whether new restrictions on OPT or even more dramatic steps, such as eliminating the part of the program that extends the eligibility of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors, have a rational basis or are more likely to harm the U.S. economy, technological innovation and American universities.

The Optional Practical Training program offers foreign students an opportunity to work in the United States temporarily during or soon after completing their studies at a U.S. college or university. Eligible students can work for 12 months (OPT), and students with a degree in a STEM field currently have the option to extend their work period by another 24 months (STEM OPT extension), for a total of 36 months.

This study presents and analyzes new data covering a 9-year period (2008 to 2016) on foreign students with STEM majors approved for OPT after they complete their studies (either via the 12-month post-completion OPT component of the program or via the STEM OPT extension component of the program) and their impact on potentially competing workers. It uses data released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

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Zavodny, M. (2019). International Students, STEM OPT and the U.S. STEM Workforce. National Foundation for American Policy. Retrieved from