An Indian diaspora organisation has appealed to the US government to make changes in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme, which allows foreign students to work in the US after completing their studies. The Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS) said that the current OPT programme does not adequately address the needs and aspirations of highly skilled STEM graduates, especially from India, who face a huge gap between graduating and obtaining an H1B visa.
In a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, FIIDS suggested several changes to the OPT programme, such as extending the STEM OPT period from 24 months to 48 months, extending the application period from 60 days to 180 days post-graduation, and giving STEM degree holders six times more chances of being selected in the H1B visa lottery than non-STEM degree holders.
FIIDS argued that these changes are essential for retaining the talent that fuels US innovation and ensuring the nation’s continued leadership in emerging technologies. It also said that retaining US-trained STEM professionals is a matter of national security, as the National Security Agency (NSA) has highlighted a talent deficit in areas such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.
FIIDS pointed out that many Indian students have changed their first-choice destination or university due to the uncertainty and difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It said that the UK has become more attractive for Indian students after introducing the Graduation Immigration Route (GIR), which allows students to work in the UK for up to two years after graduation. It also said that Canada has emerged as a preferred country for higher studies due to its open immigration policies.
FIIDS urged the US government to act swiftly and implement the suggested changes to the OPT programme, saying that it would benefit both the US and India. It said that by doing so, the US would not only retain the talent that drives its economy but also sustain the economic benefits that these students bring to the nation. It also said that it would strengthen the strategic partnership between the US and India, which share common values and interests.