As the number of international students coming to the U.S to study continues to increase, more have chosen to stay and work after graduation.
A new analysis by Pew Research shows nearly 1.5 million foreign graduates in the U.S. obtained authorization through the Optional Practical Training Program to stay and work in the country between 2004 and 2016.
OPT is a type of work permission available for eligible F-1 visa students, a visa issued to international students attending an academic program or English Language Program at a U.S. college or university. This visa allows the students to get real-world work experience related to their field of study. Only degree-seeking students can apply for OPT.
More than half of the approved OPT tend to specialize in STEM, with the number of foreign STEM graduates with OPT growing by 400 percent since the first employment extension was introduced in 2008, according to Pew Research.
According to Texas State’s Fall 2017 Statistical Report, the state of Texas has the third largest population of international students, numbering at 85,116 which is a 3.6 percent increase from 2016.
According to the same fall 2017 report, Texas State approved 176 OPT applicants, with 71 of them being STEM-focused. STEM majors are among the top 10 majors applied for by new international students and computer science ranks at number one, especially at the graduate level. However, the exploration major ranks as number one for undergraduates.
Jonathan Tyner, coordinator for the Office of International Affairs, said OPT tends to be the most popular program F-1 visa students apply for, especially if they are majoring in a STEM field.
“More STEM students apply for OPT but in proportion, we do have more STEM students than non-STEM students at TXST,” Tyner said. “There is a benefit to being a STEM student applying for OPT since they are the only ones eligible for a two-year extension, so an additional 24 months of work authorization. We could potentially see an uptick in STEM students wanting to study in the U.S because, at the completion of their program, they could potentially qualify for three years of work authorization.”
Research from the Institute of International Education shows a six percent increase in engineering fields from international students and an 18 percent increase in math and computer science majors.
Nearly three-quarters of 1.5 million graduates on OPT came from Asia, with 30 percent coming from India and 21 percent from China, according to Pew Research.
Texas State received 268 applications from India alone during fall 2017, with China coming in second with 64 applications, which is a trend seen in the last few years at the graduate level, according to official numbers from the Office of International Affairs. In total, 545 international students represented 74 countries in fall 2017.
OPT permits allow graduates to work anywhere in the country, giving them the possibility to move from the area of their school. Large metropolitan areas retain students who went to school in those areas while attracting foreign graduates from other areas. The New York and New Jersey area is the most popular, with 218,000 foreign graduates working there between 2004 and 2016. In Texas, the most popular metro area is the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with 48,000 foreign graduates working there between 2004 and 2016.
Although many variables may influence an international student’s decision to study in the U.S., Tyner said he believes the diversity in faculty can have an influence on international students deciding to come to a certain university or selecting a specific major.
“Most of the research talks about economic opportunity and university ranking and sometimes word of mouth,” Tyner said. “So if we have an international person who happens to be a faculty in a department then international students may be more inclined to come to this department because of the internationalization or internationally-minded faculty there. Then it perpetuates a culture in society to bring in more students.”
In fall 2017, 50 percent of the 857 international students who applied to Texas State were admitted.
The Office of international Affairs holds OPT workshops during the middle of each semester and brings in an immigration attorney to prepare international students for when the application process opens up.