Preserve OPT, woo international students, 21 House Republicans urge


The tussle between stricter immigration policies and attracting international talent has found an echo in the Republican Party with 21 House members writing to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, requesting the administration’s help “in ensuring our nation’s ability to attract, educate, and engage with the best and brightest students and scholars from across the world”.

The 21 House Republicans underlined the need to preserve Optional Practical Training (OPT) for international students, amid fears that the Trump administration was mulling new restrictions including on foreign students and H-1B visa holders.

Under the OPT program, international students after graduating can work in an area related to their study for a year — longer if they have a STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) degree.

A screenshot of the letter the 21 House Republicans wrote

The OPT program, the House Republicans said in the letter, allows America to globally compete for market share of international students.


“International students and their families contributed approximately $41 billion to our national economy in 2018-2019 alone,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “The endurance of this tremendous economic contribution requires our nation adopt and retain policies that keeps the United States competitive for new students and provides continuity of education for those students and faculty who have already been part of our higher education communities.”

They pointed out that international students make up only 5.5 percent of overall US college enrollments but make “significant contributions to our communities and help our students develop skills vital to their future success in the global economy”.

With US embassies and consulates shuts, international students have been unable to schedule visa appointments and college and universities face a potential 25 percent decline in international student enrollment for the fall 2020 term, the letter said.

“…We urge your respective departments to communicate and share plans to address the expected increase in demand for visa services, including how US consulates will be able to prioritize and process applications that include F-1 and J-1 visas. We believe several options are available to your agencies including the ability to waive certain interview requirements, prioritize the rescheduling of appointments that were canceled during COVID-19, and create a timely application and renewal process for professors, researchers, scientists, and those that are needed on US campuses when instruction is expected to resume.

“We further request your agencies coordinate the admission of medical residents and fellows on J-1 and H-1B visas scheduled to begin their training program on July 1, many of whom will make vital contributions at university hospitals. Without these residents and fellows, patient care will be disrupted,” the letter added.

The members of Congress urged the administration to publicly clarify that OPT would remain “fully intact”.

“As countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, China and Australia bolster immigration policies to attract and retain international students, the last thing our nation should do in this area is make ourselves less competitive by weakening OPT,” they wrote.