Indian students largest group authorised to work in US under OPT: Pew report

Indians were the largest group among the nearly 1.5 million foreign graduate students of the US colleges and universities who got authorisation to remain and work in America between 2004 and 2016, according to a study of government figures by the Pew Research Centre.

Chinese students were the second largest group followed by the South Koreans.

“Graduates from India made up the largest share of those authorised to work under the OPT (optional training program) programme during this period, with 4,41,400 (30% of the total),” Pew Research Center said in a report based on the analysis of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which it obtained through a Freedom and Information Act request.

More than half (around 56%) of foreign graduates who participated in the OPT between 2004 and 2016 obtained their degree from a public college or university. Students from China came second at 3,13,500 (21%), followed by South Koreans at 90,800 (6%).

Four-in-ten (41%) came from private universities and colleges, of which 38% were not-for-profit schools and 3% were for-profit institutions. Less than 3% of the OPT enrollees graduated from institutions not classified by the Carnegie Classification System, the report said.

The OPT programme is a type of work authorisation provided by the US government under the F-1 visa programme that allows foreign students to be temporarily employed for up to 12 or 36 months in a field that is directly related to their area of study.

More than half (53%) of the foreign graduates approved for employment through the OPT specialised in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The number of foreign STEM graduates participating in the OPT grew by 400% since the first employment extension for workers in STEM fields was introduced in 2008, the report said.

“The OPT programme has grown to become the primary way the US has retained foreign students graduating with STEM degrees from its colleges and universities,” Pew associate director Neil Ruiz said.

“Foreign students obtaining authorisation to remain and work in the US after graduation come from all corners of the globe, and major metro areas in the US tend to attract them in large numbers,” he added.

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