Participation jumps in Optional Practical Training student jobs

There is good news for colleges and universities suffering from falling international enrollment. A temporary jobs program that makes U.S. education even more desirable has been growing.

The Pew Research Center has documented a big jump in the number of foreign students participating in the Optional Practical Training program, which allows them to stay in the U.S. for temporary employment after they graduate. Between 2004 and 2016, participation grew dramatically from 45,000 to 172,000. That’s an increase of nearly 400 percent. This has been the result of significant hiring of science and engineering talent by U.S. tech firms.

The Institute of International Education says the program has been crucial in attracting science and engineering students to the U.S.

“It’s good for international students, it’s good for employers, it’s also good for the U.S. institutions that are trying to be more attractive to international students,” said a spokesperson for the American Council on Education, which represents 1,800 college and university presidents.

That said, some critics say the program puts American students at a disadvantage because employers participating in the Optional Practical Training program aren’t required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.

U.S. colleges and universities enjoy the largest population of foreign students in the world, but enrollment has fallen by 7 percent during the Trump administration. In part, that has been the result of the Muslim travel ban and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Competition from Canada, Britain and Australia is also having an impact.

“It is very important to remember that we are in a global competition for talent,” a spokesperson for the Association of International Educators told the Associated Press. “We do not have to lose these talented and valuable international students to other nations.”

President Trump has made some motion in the direction of changing or reducing the Optional Practical Training program, although no details have been released.