I was interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Trisha Thadani for her well-researched article regarding the F-1 OPT program and the latest results of the Pew Research Center’s 12-year period study into this program, released today, in which it found that “Federal training program sees 400% increase in foreign students graduating and working in STEM fields from 2008 to 2016“.
Though it looks as if we can expect a further hobbling of the F-1 OPT program, I believe that such an act would only damage our nation’s precarious international lead in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). There is a very real and obvious workforce problem in our country, for which the OPT or the H-1B is a temporary salve: not the cause. Rather, the issue is that among the tens of thousands of things that America has stopped manufacturing en masse include American STEM Graduates. That is the single biggest reason why half of our Ph.D. candidates as well as a quarter of our STEM workforce are foreign born.
Ultimately, instead of scapegoating “Srinivas from Hyderabad” for daring to pay U.S. tuition fees, studying hard, and filling one of the 480,000 open computing jobs nationwide in OPT or H-1B status, we should be asking ourselves why “Suzy from Ohio” is majoring in Italian Art History or Anthropology or Philosophy instead of Computer Engineering. Anti-immigrationists must stop playing the victim, stop shifting the blame onto the voiceless, and start taking personal responsibility, the American Way: by enrolling themselves or their own children into Mathematics, Biochemistry, Engineering, or Information Technology programs.
This week, Bill Snyder, a blogger for the anti-H-1B propaganda site Infoworld posted an article attacking Immigration of the Educated. What is especially interesting about Mr. Snyder’s position is the fact that it signals the resumption of the 2008 attack on the Optional Practical Training program (OPT). OPT being a temporary work authorized status granted to eligible F-1 students who may thus gain professional work experience post graduation, and perhaps a portion back of 20+ billion dollars in tuition they pay into our coffers each year.
Unjustified ire towards OPT is peaking only because the program may be utilized by eligible F-1 Science/Technology/Engineering/Math (STEM) graduates. Apparently, for Mr. Snyder, it is only then that the program transforms into what he terms “a sleazy end run around the law”. Mr. Snyder claims that these new STEM graduates, supported by their “tech company” employers, enter the U.S. workforce en masse to undercut IT wages. Said wages, which he admits in the first sentence, are already “climbing to more than $87,000 a year”.
The fact that Mr. Snyder’s argument against OPT flies in the face of the concept of American Exceptionalism and two basic economic principles, or that it is entirely bereft of any unbiased and relevant data is moot. The most significant takeaway from his article is that STEM OPT is nothing more than a scapegoat: this attack is actually and truly directed against the H-1B program itself. Mr. Snyder and other IT protectionists seek justification to undermine the OPT program not because of any alleged misuse, but because OPT allows a post graduate STEM worker precious time to find a good employer who may agree to pay government fees of up to $5,550.00 (plus attorney fees) to file an H-1B petition on their behalf. (There are no guarantees of approval, nor is the worker forced to even ultimately take up employment with the H-1B petitioner. As well, in the future, the H-1B worker, for any reason, may transfer to a new H-1B employer in as little as one week.)
Our immigration policy is increasingly hobbled by protectionists who, for short term gain (or perhaps unknowingly), damage our nation’s international lead in the STEM fields. Our insufficient H-1B cap that does the same: tens of thousands of highly qualified, valuable STEM professionals were rejected in last year’s random selection process (H-1B lottery), and sadly the scene is set be repeated again this year in April.
Our repeated rejection of STEM professionals is untenable and is certain to diminish our ability to attract the worlds best and brightest, unless we make drastic changes. Already, other nations are eagerly recruiting STEM workers (sometimes from within our own borders). The bottom line: the yearly H-1B cap must be increased to an amount commensurate to demand, or at the very least, to a level that isn’t exhausted in one week.