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  • Writer's pictureHelm Immigration

Trump Takes Aim at International Students and OPT Program, Travis Helm, May 12, 2020.

On April 23, 2020, the following Presidential proclamation took effect: “Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak.” This proclamation is limited to individuals currently outside the United States applying for immigrant visa entry. The proclamation does not apply to nonimmigrant visa holders, such as F-1 Student Visas, however, the proclamation requires that within 30 days of the April 23, 2020, the Secretaries of Labor and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall review nonimmigrant programs and recommend to the President other appropriate measures to stimulate the U.S. economy and “ensure the prioritization, hiring and employment of U.S. workers.”[1]

As a next step, it is expected the Trump administration may impose new restrictions on student visa holders who want to work in the United States after graduation on the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. OPT is a temporary employment program for international students and graduates which is directly related to the student’s major area of study. The OPT program has increased in popularity in the past years, especially among students in STEM fields. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, the number of OPT work authorizations issued to STEM students grew 400% from 2008 to 2016.[2]

Recently, four Republican senators sent a letter to President Trump asking him to suspend issuance of guest worker visas, including OPT, until next year or “until employment has returned to normal levels” because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact.[3] In fact, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf previously indicated that eliminating OPT is an administration target. The senators said that American students would be forced to compete against international students in a tight job market, and the suspension of the visa categories would give younger Americans and recent college graduates the opportunity to compete for jobs that might otherwise go to immigrants.[4]

The senators and the Trump administration’s proposed limits on the OPT program do not appear based on any logic or reason. For decades, experts have complained that Americans don’t excel in the STEM areas of study. According to a study conducted by Business Roundtable and the University of Maryland’s Interindustry Forecasting Project, “scaling back OPT would cause the unemployment rate to rise 0.15 percentage points by 2028” and “A total of 443,000 jobs would be lost in the economy by 2028, resulting in 255,000 fewer positions for native-born workers.[5] Madeline Zavodny, an economics professor at the University of North Florida, examined nearly a decade of data on OPT and concluded, “The results indicate that the OPT program does not reduce job opportunities for American workers in STEM fields.”[6]

Countries around the world are competing for the most valuable of all resources – human capital. Canada, Australia, and other countries are making it easier for international students to work in their countries after graduation. A future shortfall in U.S. trained STEM workers threatens not only our economy but national security as well. Many current and future military defense systems depend on advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum research, and nanotechnology. These are technologies in which America currently leads in development and innovation, but were competitors are pushing to overtake us and dominate the high-tech future.[7]

If you are a current F-1 visa holder, currently have OPT status, or are an employer looking for qualified workers in the STEM fields, we encourage you to contact our office to schedule a consultation to learn what opportunities are available to you.

[1] See Travis Helm, “Fact Sheet: Presidential Proclamation on Immigration, Economy and COVID-19,” The Law Office of Travis Helm, LLC, April 23, 2020. Available at: [2] Sintia Radu, “STEM Worker Shortage at a Crisis, Survey Shows,” U.S. News & World Report, Aug. 23, 2018. Available at: [3] Nicholas Wu, “GOP senators ask Trump to restrict guest worker visas amid coronavirus pandemic,” USA Today, May 7, 2020. Available at: [4] Stuart Anderson, “Next Trump Immigration Target: OPT For International Students,” Forbes, May 4, 2020. Available at: [5] Mintz Levin, “Impact of COVID-19 on F-1 Students Seeking OPT,” The National Law Review, May 7, 2020. Available at: [6] Anderson, “Next Trump Immigration Target: OPT For International Students.” [7] Arthur Herman, “America’s High-Tech STEM Crisis,” Forbes, Sep. 10, 2018. Available at: #Immigration #Employment #Visa #OPT #Wyoming #HighTech #STEM #Trump #InternationalStudent #Coronavirus #COVID #pandemic

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