Some international students studying in U.S. universities may soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they have seven extra months to find a job.
That’s because the federal government will publish rules on Friday to allow international students earning degrees in certain science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field to stay in the country for up to three years after graduation while they find jobs in related fields. The rule will go into effect on May 10.
Under previous rules in the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, graduates had 29 months to search for jobs. Extending the rule could give immigrants more opportunities to apply through the annual H-1B high-skilled visa lottery that grants a chance for people with specialty occupations to permanently stay in the country. The OPT program allows around 560,000 foreign students to temporarily work in STEM-related fields during and after their studies.
Each year, the H-1B lottery receives more applicants than it can accept for its visa quota, always quickly reaching its capacity within days of the start of the filing period.
The revised rule may help people like Shruthi Aramandla, who told the New York Times that an extension would help her goal of staying permanently in the United States. Aramandla, a 24-year-old New York University engineering student, is set to graduate in May. Under the previous rule, she could only stay until October 2017 while she scrambles to find a job and enter the H-1B lottery. The extension would offer her an additional chance in April 2018 to enter the lottery again.
“If my work visa gets denied this year, I still have two more opportunities to apply, and I can keep working within the country,” Aramandla told the publication.
But the revised rule has already drawn the ire of unemployed technology workers who are concerned that foreign workers could potentially drive down the wages of U.S. citizens. Others have raised concerns that technology companies may be relying on OPT workers in a way that allows them to deny basic worker protections, like not paying staff minimum wage. Technology companies have also been criticized for abusing the H-1B program by hiring a disproportionate amount of employees from places like India.
The OPT program recently made its way into the presidential debate.
Last week, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) showed up at a Donald Trump rally in Alabama with two former Disney World workers who claimed that they were laid off and replaced by workers on H-1B visas. And at a recent GOP debate, moderator Megyn Kelly noted the disparity between Trump’s campaign website — which indicates that he’s against increasing the number of H-1B visas available — and his recent comments in support of the program. The GOP frontrunner responded that his position on the policy is changing.
“We need highly skilled people in this country,” Trump said at that debate. “One of the biggest problems we have is people go to the best colleges — they’ll go to Harvard, they’ll go to Stanford, they’ll go to Wharton, as soon as they’re finished they get shoved out. They want to stay in this country… We absolutely have to be able to keep the brain power in this country.”
The concerns about U.S. workers losing out on jobs may be overblown. Immigrant advocacy groups like FWD.us president Todd Schulte have previously noted that foreign workers who graduate from a U.S. university with an advanced degree and stay to work in a STEM-related field create “an additional 2.62 American jobs.” Bill Gates similarly said that H-1B hires could add an additional four or five employees to “support them in various capacities.”
In fact, a 2008 Harvard Business School study found that H-1B visa holders have contributed to an increase in the number of inventions, as measured by patents. And a 2009 Technology Policy Institute study found that foreign STEM graduates could raise the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by about $13.6 billion in 2008, and contributed anywhere between $2.7 and $3.6 billion in taxes.