Republican and Democratic presidents have made it easier for foreign students to work here for years after graduation
American universities hosted more than 1 million international students in the 2022-23 academic year – but that figure includes students who had already graduated and are essentially foreign workers, according to a State Department report.
In reality, nearly 200,000 foreigners classified as students are actually working, without paying Social Security and Medicare taxes, making them cheaper to hire than Americans.
The data were released this month in Open Doors, an annual report from the Institute of International Education, a State Department agency. The report stated 1,057,188 international students are currently in the United States, with 858,395 enrolled in college and 198,793 participating in the government’s Optional Practical Training program. This is an increase of 14,034 from the previous academic year.
It is also more than double the number of OPT workers who were in the U.S. in the 2012-13 school year.
The IIE confirmed to The College Fix that the OPT workers had already left college when they were counted as “students” but clarified why those individuals are classified as such.
“International students on OPT remain on a student visa as their work experience is practical training related to their studies,” Mirka Martel, the research director for the think tank said via media statement. “As such, U.S. colleges and universities still hold their student visa and are able to provide insights about how many students pursue this opportunity.”
The OPT program originally allowed some foreign students to work for an American employer for 12 months to receive training in STEM fields. President George W. Bush’s administration added 17 months to the work period, and a subsequent rule from the Obama administration gave STEM graduates 36 months of OPT as “students.”
An immigration think tank argued the Open Doors data “downplays” the tax break.
“Every version of the report in prior years was totally silent on this subsidy,” David North of the Center for Immigration Studies wrote in his analysis. “The speakers announcing the report [this month] were equally quiet on this subject.”
North called OPT “a disguised — and subsidized — foreign worker program.” He estimates the tax break to be around $1 billion for American companies “at the expense of our elderly, sick, and unemployed.”
Students are not supposed to turn their study visas into work permits, according to comments from another CIS researcher.
“The F-1 visa is to allow foreign students to obtain an education in the United States, but the expectation is they return to their home countries,” Robert Law previously told The Fix. “OPT/STEM OPT is the largest guest worker program never passed by Congress; it is an executive branch creation that allows hundreds of thousands of aliens to work in the United States for years in circumvention of [an] established immigration cap.”
Open Doors showed that 289,526 of the enrolled foreign students and OPT workers are from China, making it the top country of origin in the study despite a decrease of 0.2 percent from the previous year. India came second with 268,923 people, a 35 percent increase, followed by South Korea with 43,847.
The Biden administration has expanded eligibility for OPT by adding dozens of majors broadly classified under STEM, including business analytics and financial analytics. A rule proposed last month would also extend OPT authorization for workers waiting to be approved for an H-1B visa.
The Supreme Court declined to hear a legal challenge to the government’s expansion of the program last month, leaving the 36-month rule in place.
Fifty-five percent of the foreign nationals in the report studied STEM. Math, computer science, engineering, and business were the most popular fields.
Editor’s note: The attribution for an IIE quote has been updated. The State Department spokesman did not initially specify that his comments were on behalf of someone else, though later said his email did not go through with that request.
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