Revoking of OPT extension by Trump to divert Indian STEM students elsewhere

Australia, Canada, New Zealand likely to benefit from revocation plans

Newly-elected US president Donald Trump’s plans to reverse extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT) for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students could benefit immigrant-friendly nations like Australia, Canada and New Zealand, among others.
OPT allows foreign STEM students to extend their stay in the US after completion of studies for 6-12 months under student visa. Foreign students are found to make use of OPT to either look for jobs or apply for further education or simply float around till the OPT term expires. The regime of previous US president Barack Obama had looked to extend the same to over three years but ran out of time with the country going into elections.

However, now the Trump administration has prepared a draft that looks to revoke extension of OPT. What’s more, according to Indian education consultants, the new administration could altogether revoke OPT which could also impact students planning to study abroad in the US.
Indian students may now have to either secure jobs much before they travel to study in the US or look for other immigration friendly countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand. According to experts, the latter seems more likely since countries like Australia and Canada offer such extension for a period of anywhere between two years and four years, giving ample time to students to look for jobs and secure work visas.

The move could definitely impact number of Indian students studying in the US which has been on the rise by about 25 per cent to over 165,000 during academic year 2015-16, as per the 2016 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. As per the report, there are 165,918 students from India, making it the second leading country of origin among international students in the US. Also, one in every six international students in the US is an Indian.
Terming the move as ‘retrograde’, Narayanan Ramaswamy, Partner & Leader for Education & Skill Development Sector, KPMG in India stated that foreign intelligent students were to be equally attributed for US’ prosperity which could now be impacted.

“Immediately, the impact will be that many students will reconsider and hence the heterogeneity of students will go missing in the US. And I don’t think the US universities will be liking this. However, it is not the end of the road for students as other options are available. The Canadian, UK, Australian universities will now be more lucrative. And if India gets it right, it could retain students and build such universities,” said Ramaswamy.

Of the over 165,000 Indian students going to US for studies, roughly 65 per cent are estimated to go for STEM education. Of these, about 75 per cent are estimated to avail OPT every year to stay back for varied reasons.

Education consultants are already seeing a rise in enquiries for other countries like Australia and Canada, over the US. “There will be a drastic downfall in students planning to go to the US. As such since December, the number of enquiries for Australia and Canada, among other countries has increased as against the US. So students prepared to go to US are now mulling over Australia and Canada,” said Bala Ramalingam.

Obviously there will be an impact. The OPT is used in multiple ways. Firstly, students who have no job offers when they graduate rely on the OPT to help them sustain in the US. Secondly, for those who have a job offer but have to wait till the time the company officially sponsor an H1B visa, the OPT comes in handy. Thirdly, it is used by explorers who want to do research or those who float around to explore other options. But now, when you graduate you better have a job in hand and that company has to quickly convert your visa status from a student to a work visa.

However, revocation of OPT’s extension by Trump may not impact students going to top schools like Stanford or MIT since the trend of securing jobs at graduation in these campuses is relatively higher. On the other hand, this could impact students going to tier-2 and tier-3 universities in the US. “Students graduating from schools where placements are not high are going to face the brunt of this move because it gives them no margin to stay in the US and secure something and then get an H1B visa,” Kagzi added.

This means, the homework of seeking jobs after graduation will now have to be early on, probably even before the studies begin.

Apart from securing jobs early or look for other countries, students also have an option of going for further studies, said Kagzi. “The undergraduates who want to stay back may now have to apply for post graduation and for post graduates, apply for PhD,” she added.

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