CRA Releases Statement on Reported Plans to Suspend or End the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program
Today, CRA released the following statement:
May 29, 2020
CRA STATEMENT CONCERNING EFFORTS TO END THE OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING PROGRAM
We are aware of efforts in both the Administration and Congress aimed at suspending or curtailing the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for students on F-1 visas in the United States. As an organization representing more than 200 PhD- or research-focused computing departments in North America, eight leading industrial computing research labs, and six affiliated professional societies in the computing fields with a combined membership of over 200,000, we strongly oppose any efforts to limit or end the OPT program, which plays an important role in keeping some of the world’s best talent in the U.S., working and innovating in the U.S. economy.
The argument given for ending the program now — prioritizing U.S. workers over foreign talent given the overall high levels of unemployment in the economy — does not make sense when applied to the computing fields. In January 2020, prior to the impact of the COVID pandemic, unemployment in the computing fields was at 3.0 percent, a figure generally considered “full employment.” By April 2020, when the impacts of the pandemic forced overall unemployment up to 15 percent, unemployment in the computing fields actually dropped to 2.8 percent, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey data by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP). An analysis by NFAP of Active Job Postings in Computing Occupations amplifies this point, noting that between April 14 and May 13, 2020, there were more than 625,000 active vacancies in jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree in computing. The OPT program is not harming U.S. computing workers, and importantly, jobs in computing cannot be filled by workers transitioning from non-technical fields without significant retraining that can span multiple years.
Suspending or curtailing the OPT program would destroy a key pathway for many of our best foreign students to contribute to U.S. innovation. Indeed, our innovation ecosystem — that extraordinarily productive interplay between U.S. research universities, industrial and federal research labs, and the people and ideas that flow between them — depends on a great majority of those foreign-born degree recipients deciding to stay and continue their work in the U.S. According to the National Science Foundation, 72 percent of foreign born STEM graduates stay employed in the U.S. for at least 10 years after graduation. But, uncertainty around the status of the OPT program threatens to upend that trend. Foreign students attending our schools now and intending to use the program to complete their graduate education and help find more permanent employment in the U.S. are increasingly likely to seek employment elsewhere, either in their homeland or in countries more open to highly skilled foreign talent.
Ending or suspending OPT (and the associated Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program) would not only damage the current cohort of foreign graduate students studying in the U.S. and hoping to stay. The availability of the pathway that the OPT program provides is a huge incentive to the best foreign graduate students deciding whether or not to study in the U.S. Any uncertainty around the program, especially in light of uncertainty about the status of other aspects of U.S. immigration and visa policy, is likely to discourage many students from applying to U.S. institutions at all, providing a new advantage to economies in other parts of the world who will gladly welcome their talents.
We agree that Federal pandemic response efforts should be prioritized towards aiding U.S. workers and others in the U.S. affected by COVID. However, efforts to curtail or suspend the OPT program will not achieve that goal. Instead, those efforts will cause great harm to an innovation ecosystem that continues to be a crucial part of our recovery effort. We strongly oppose any effort to end the program.