Make changes in training programme for foreign students, Indian diaspora body urges US admin

FIIDS wrote a letter to secretary of homeland security demanding extension of STEM training period from 24 months to 48 months.

Indian students body urges US for changes in training programme (Representational Image: Wikimedia Commons)Indian students body urges US for changes in training programme (Representational Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Press Trust of India | October 21, 2023 | 07:57 AM IST

WASHINGTON: Asserting that there is a huge gap between graduating students and available H1B, an Indian diaspora body on Friday urged the Biden Administration to make changes in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme for foreign students. The Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS) in a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security said as a result of the gap, Indian students were missing out on the opportunity to contribute to the US industry.

The several changes suggested by FIIDS include an extension of the STEM OPT period from 24 months to 48 months for eligible students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields, an extension of the period for applying for OPT post-graduation from 60 days to 180 days and providing STEM degree holders with six times the chances of being selected in the H1B visa lottery compared to non-STEM degree holders.

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“By doing so, we not only retain the talent that fuels our innovation but also sustain the economic benefits that these students bring to our nation,” Khanderao Kand, chief of Policy and Strategy, FIIDS, said in the letter. “Given the evolving landscape of global technology and the increasing challenges posed in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, retaining highly skilled STEM talent within our borders is not just an economic imperative but a matter of national security,” Kand wrote in the letter.

"The National Security Agency (NSA) has highlighted a talent deficit in emerging technologies as a national security threat. Retaining US-trained STEM professionals is critical to establishing a competitive advantage in these areas. By extending the OPT period, providing extra H1B visa allocations, and increasing lottery chances, we can retain the talent that is vital for maintaining our technological edge and national security," he added.

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Noting that this initiative has a significant economic impact, Kand said foreign students contribute immensely to the US economy, bringing nearly USD 10 billion to the nation's universities in terms of fees and expenses. They also enrich the US academic environment and foster cross-cultural understanding. “Without the proposed rule changes, the dream of continuing their education and careers in the United States becomes increasingly difficult for these talented individuals. This uncertainty might lead them to explore educational opportunities in other countries such as Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and others, which would adversely impact US universities and our economy in the long run,” Kand said.

The suggested OPT changes are essential not only for retaining highly skilled STEM graduates within the United States but also for ensuring the nation's continued leadership in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, he wrote.

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