Friday, May 22, 2020

Restricting Optional Practical Training for International Students Is a Bad Idea

Guest Blogger: Ken Nishikata, graduate student, Migration Studies, University of San Francisco

April and May have been eventful months full of anxiety for international students studying in American colleges. From the suspension of entry into the country for most new immigrants lasting for sixty days to the possibility of suspending OPT (Optional Practical Training) and CPT (Optional Practical Training) by Trump’s administration. Government officials feel that by banning international students from successfully acquiring OPT and CPT, the U.S. economy will recover from the COVID crisis as this creates space for unemployed U.S. citizen workers to re-enter the job market. In efforts to seize on the pandemic, such new measures would virtually close the borders for all international students. A specific target is China as the largest source of foreign born students, but a possible measure taken by the administration to “deflect criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic” (Anderson, 2020). Obviously, these are measures that use the ongoing pandemic as an excuse to empower xenophobic policy and rhetoric targeting non-American students. On May 13, CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang was subject to racial discrimination after Trump disrespectfully targeted her race and ethnicity.

Attempts to prohibit international students from working in the United States is not ne. In 2015, Trump’s chief architect of immigration policy, Stephen Miller, drafted a bill that aimed to limit student employment authorization to those who had ten years or more of work experience outside the country. Assuming that this bill passed back then, the total number of international students would have significantly declined. Many international students including myself aspire to build a career in the United States through the means of OPT and CPT. We view the economic investment as something worth doing in terms of potential compensations and job experience. Without any of this, we see no purpose in paying high tuition. The effects of long-standing policies that seek to block foreign born students have already been apparent. According to quarterly data on student visa holders recently published by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USCIS), the total number of international students pursuing a degree in the United States dropped by 2.7 percent between the years 2018 and 2019. Certainly, this hinders the entrance of promising foreign born talent for the U.S. labor market.

In efforts to further question the possible suspension of OPT and CPT, we should review data on the influence of international students in the labor market. A study conducted by the University of Maryland and non-profit association Business Roundtable finds that curtailing international students of such temporary working permits would result in a rise in unemployment by 0.15 percentage points by 2028, causing nearly 443,000 jobs to be lost in the U.S. economy and an increased shortage of 255,000 jobs for U.S. citizen workers by the end of the same year (Anderson, 2020). In other words, international students who are allowed to work actually help to bolster the U.S. economy. Cutting down potential career pathways for international students would trigger adverse effects on the nation’s economy because:

  • Job opportunities even for Americans would increasingly become scarce and;
  • There would be less incentive for foreign investment in the form of tuition.

            Out of all the existing measures to cope with the pandemic, Trump’s administration choice in this direction would be the least effective one. Shutting down opportunities will only result in unfavorable outcomes for the nation. By pursuing a policy plagued by anti-immigrant rhetoric to govern migratory flow into the country, the economy would deteriorate. Any policy posing such a threat should be abandoned..


  • Anderson, S. (2020, May 4). Next Trump Immigration Target: OPT For International Students. Retrieved from


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