STEM OPT Program an Economic Engine for Americans

The STEM OPT program, in short, gives undergraduate and graduate students in the United States on F-1 visas the opportunity to receive up to 36 months of OPT employment authorization, if it is related to their STEM area of study.

At some point in the first half of 2020, the United States District Court for D.C. will hear the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. Department of Homeland Security case, which will examine the role of DHS’ Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) program.

The STEM OPT program, in short, gives undergraduate and graduate students in the United States on F-1 visas the opportunity to receive up to 36 months of OPT employment authorization, if it is related to their STEM area of study.

This is an important program that helps attract many of the world’s smartest students to the United States in the hope that they might use their skillsets acquired in American universities for the betterment of our tech industry and economy. In an increasingly tech-driven marketplace, these minds are needed now more than ever. It’s against this backdrop that CompTIA is thrilled to stand with more than 50 of our peers and join an amicus brief to detail our support for this critical program.

The STEM OPT program provides critical hands-on training for foreign-born students. This training ensures students are equipped with the most up-to-date thinking and practices in their fields. It gives them the real-life experiences needed for the high-tech careers that are the economic engine of the 21st century. Workers to fill these jobs are desperately needed.

Our own research found that there were about 12 million tech jobs in the U.S. last year, but almost 4 million additional tech openings. Such a disparity is the result of a persistent skills gap that threatens innovation and economic growth here in the U.S.

The STEM OPT program, while just one avenue to shrink the skills gap, is an excellent pathway to attract foreign talent to the United States to study, innovate, and drive economic growth. Our immigration framework is woefully outdated, and too often forces foreign-born students to leave the country after graduation, taking with them the cutting-edge skillsets they acquired from our universities. These talents are used to create new products and services abroad, directly competing with American businesses.

The STEM OPT program mitigates this, enabling these students to temporarily use their skillsets in the U.S. Ending this important program would result in removing high-skilled foreign workers from their current jobs and forcing them to leave the U.S. Such actions would cause considerable harm to U.S. employers and the economy, only benefitting rivals abroad.

If we’re to close the skills gap and fully realize the economic power tech can unleash, Washington must make every effort to grow –not reduce –the opportunities for STEM students to sharpen their skillsets. The STEM OPT program does this by ensuring bright minds who happen to be born overseas can come here to study and work for a brief period, thereby helping to spur innovation and jumpstart job and economic growth.

Read the amicus brief here.

Read our press statement here.

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