A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Friday, November 2, 2018

Tremendous Growth in International Students' Practical Training Program

What do Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple have in Common? Other than being the world's largest business enterprises, they also share a passion for the world's top tech talent.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a branch of Homeland Security, has recently published data on Top 200 Employers for STEM OPT and the yearly approved authorization growth of the OPT, STEM OPT, and CPT programs. Unsurprisingly, big names like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Apple top the list. Amazon is #1, with 2,953 tech-savvy students employed in STEM OPT in 2017 alone. Numerous universities are on the list, employing as many as 511 students (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for STEM OPT. Many companies in IT and consulting can also be found on the list.

OPT refers to Optional Practical Training, a program that allows international students one year of authorized status working for an American company in their field to gain real world experience. Typically holders of the F-1 student visa, these students may engage in OPT employment before or after graduation from an academic program in the undergraduate (bachelor's) or graduate level. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) occurs as part of a student's course of study and may count toward the one-year OPT period. STEM OPT refers to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics OPT, a 2 year OPT extension available for certain STEM fields such as mathematics, engineering and computer science. 

The practical training programs have had a substantial increase in participants over the last ten years.  ICE's data includes Top 200 Employers for STEM OPT students from 2008-2017. OPT authorizations have grown about 2.5 times from 83,077 authorizations in 2007 to 219,635 in 2017. Since its creation in 2008, STEM OPT has seen immense growth from 2,169 authorizations to 60,410 in 2017. CPT participants have more than doubled over the past decade. 

figure 1 - Source: ICE website

Practical training is clearly a very popular option for foreign students. Last year, a total of 328,205 students have been authorized for OPT, 89,839 for STEM OPT, and 105,351 for CPT (see table). This growth will most likely continue, although the Trump administration is working on revamping the STEM OPT program and possibly curbing its availability.  

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