The US government, recently, extended the OPT period for foreign STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) graduates from 29 months to 36 months. Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a stipulated period during which students are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to take up paid or voluntary work in their field of specialisation in the US. These students must have an F-1 visa status, and have completed/have been pursuing their degrees in the US for more than nine months.
While many anti-immigration groups have been rallying against foreign graduates taking American jobs, the Obama government has gone ahead to give a boost to foreign students to study in the US. PaGaLGuY has listed 3 major benefits of the OPT extension for Indian students.
- More time to get selected in the H-1B pool: Let’s assume that as per the old OPT rules, your 17-month OPT ends in February 2017. Now if you have missed your application for the H-1B pool in April this year, or you did apply, but didn’t get selected in the lottery, you will have to leave the country in Feb 2017, or find other means to stay until you get your H-1B status. Arindam Bhatt, a current student at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), says, “Some students in the US, then transfer to an F-1 visa after the OPT and pursue a one year course or diploma, in order to stay in US until their name gets selected in the pool. This wait, comes at a cost of semester fees for the diploma, and other living costs in US.” Thus, the new OPT rule of extending training term from 29 months to 36 months, allows students to stay in the country long enough to transfer to H-1B visa, provided they apply for it earlier during their OPT.
- US job experience before deciding what to do next: For some students, settling in the US in the long term may not be a preferred option. Students who only view the country for temporary study and work purposes, can now earn work experience of up to 3 years in the US in their field of specialisation. Harsh Ranade, an MS graduate from Chicago University, explains, “Priorities may change over the 3 year working period in US. The extension in OPT gives more time to find further direction. Besides, once you experience the work environment in US, you have a better picture of whether you want to continue working there, or head somewhere else.” Furthermore, while working in the same company for 3 years, students may reconsider their decision to not head to another country/home country and join a new company.
- FICA tax reduction: The difference in F-1 OPT and H-1B visa is that, the former allows you exemption from FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes. This means that students during their OPT are exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes, which under the H-1B visa, are deducted from the paycheck. Let’s assume, your annual salary during the OPT period is $50,000. This means that as per the current rate of FICA taxes, annually you will be saving $3,800 approx by way of tax deduction, during the OPT period.
The number of Indian students in the US has been increasing year-on-year, and according to KIC Education, a TOEFL coaching institute in Mumbai, as many as 52% Indian students planning to go abroad, choose US as their study destination. Simultaneously, Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, is now looking to make visa rules more stringent for non-EU students, as a measure to reduce immigrants in UK. In light of such happenings, the 3-year OPT rule in US, comes as a move favourable to Indian students heading abroad for study.