Let's Use a More Accurate Set of Initials for the OPT Program: AAA

By David North, December 15, 2015

The most recent survey of foreign students, Open Doors, shows substantial growth in the OPT program and also reports nations of origin for these recent alien alumni of U.S. colleges and universities.

As discussed previously, the Optional Training Program is misnamed. It has nothing to do with training and is simply a program used by employers to hire recent foreign college graduates at below-market rates (neither employers nor OPT workers have to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes, a boon to them and a blow to our seniors.)

An employer can get a tax reduction of as much as $10,000-$12,000 by hiring, say, an alien with a BA in plant sciences as compared to hiring a citizen or a green card holder with exactly the same credentials at exactly the same salary.

And, as might be suspected, the Obama administration wants to expand the program.

The new information comes to us from the Institute for International Education in New York City, an advocate of cross-national education, and thus a supporter of more foreign students. Open Doors is an annual survey of international student advisers who provide information about their own institutions. It is not a direct census of foreign students, but it is a useful measure of foreign student participation, particularly as numbers change over the years.

Open Doors, like the administration, regards OPT workers as students, and reports that there were 120,287 of them in the most recent estimate, as opposed to 105,997 for the prior year. That amounts to a 13 percent increase in these government-subsidized jobs for aliens.

Given the administration's proposed expansion of the program — which would provide most of the OPT workers with 36 months instead of 29 months in the no-payroll-tax status — we can expect something like 140,000 of them in the next count.

The Open Doors data, unlike the government data on this program described in my earlier blog, provides nation of origin information. It shows that OPT is a heavily Asian program and draws few of its workers from other places in the world. China is the nation with the most OPT workers (43,114), followed by India with 29,388 and South Korea with 6,635.

Of the 120,287 workers, the report states that 93,418 are from Asia, as Open Doors defines Asia. Were it to use a more widely accepted definition the number would be higher, as the report counts 1,231 Turkish workers as European and 3,779 people from Middle East as African.

The numbers, thus corrected, show 98,428 Asians, or 81.8 percent of the OPT population.

Since these workers are all college graduates, maybe we should use the initials AAA for the program, standing for the Asian Alumni Association.


For an update on the status of the OPT program in the courts, see this posting by my colleague John Miano.