San Jose Gains Largest Share of Foreign Graduates Under OPT Program, STEM Fields

The San Jose, California metro recorded the largest share (71%) of foreign graduates working in the area under the Optional Practical Training program (OPT) who graduated from other metros, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. Two other California metro areas followed: San Jose (44,500), San Francisco (33,700) and Los Angeles (27,800).

Under the OPT program, foreign students who stay to work in the United States can search for a job anywhere in the country. These foreign student graduates in the OPT program can move from the metro area of their school and pursue work elsewhere.

Through the federal government’s OPT program, nearly 1.5 million foreign graduates of U.S. colleges and universities obtained authorization to remain and work in the U.S. between 2004 and 2016. And guess what fields they came from? More than half (53%) of the foreign graduates approved for employment specialized in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

OPT is used by the U.S. as a way to compete with other countries for top talent. It is less well-known than the H-1B visa program – which enables U.S. companies to hire highly skilled foreign workers and is the nation’s largest temporary employment visa program – yet OPT approvals actually outnumbered initial H-1B visa approvals in recent years. In addition, OPT’s eligible population has been on the rise:

Between 2008 and 2016, new college enrollments among foreign students on F-1 visas grew 104%.

Foreign students who obtained authorization to remain and work in the U.S. after graduation come from all around the world, but majority of them hold citizenship in Asia. Students from China, India and South Korea made up 57% of all OPT participants between 2004 and 2016.

The data referenced in this report cover F-1 visa holders approved for OPT participation between 2004 and 2016, only those who pursued degrees in higher education (associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate) are included in the analysis.

The overall surge in the number of foreign college graduates participating in OPT is largely attributable to a 400% increase in STEM graduates approved to temporarily work in the U.S. since 2008.

Among OPT participants with doctoral degrees, 78% studied in a STEM field, while among those with master’s degrees the share was 60%. STEM graduates made up fewer shares of OPT participants with bachelor’s (33%) and associate degrees (12%).

The top fields of study among OPT participants with doctorates were engineering (34%), physical sciences (16%) and biological and biomedical sciences (13%).

Foreign graduates with master’s degrees concentrated in the areas of engineering (27%), computer and information sciences and support services (22%), and business, management, marketing, and support services (22%). OPT enrollees with bachelor’s degrees most often completed majors in business, management, marketing, and support services (32%), engineering (12%), and the social sciences (9%).

Most foreign students enrolled in OPT attended public colleges

More than half (56%) of foreign graduates who participated in OPT between 2004 and 2016 obtained their degree from a public college or university. Four-in-ten (41%) came from private universities and colleges, of which 38% were not-for-profit schools and 3% were for-profit institutions. Fewer than 3% of OPT enrollees graduated from schools not classified under the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education (CCIHE).

The three top sources of OPT enrollees between 2004 and 2016 are all private, nonprofit colleges: the University of Southern California (27,100), New York University (26,800) and Columbia University (22,600).

OPT participants’ top colleges included the City University of New York’s Bernard M. Baruch College (18,500). Other public schools that graduated significant numbers of OPT enrollees include University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (13,700), University of California, Los Angeles (13,600), and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (13,600).