Cal Poly International Students Nervous About Possible Federal Legislation Change

International students across the country are growing nervous about the possible rescindment of a program that lets science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors stay in the US and work after graduation. STEM majors can stay up to two years under a program implemented by the Bush administration in 2008 called Optional Practical Training (OPT), but that may be about to change, according to National Foundation for American Policy executive director Stuart Anderson.

"Work inside the agency to rescind the STEM OPT regulation has already begun," Lynden Melmed, a partner at the immigration law firm Berry Appleman & Leiden, told Anderson. "Right now, it is not a question of whether the administration will walk that path. It is just a question of when."

For Cal Poly computer science major Stoyan Shukerov, this change would mean he couldn’t stay in the US and work in the industry like he hopes to. Shukerov is a Bulgarian native but came to the US for university.

“It’s in the back of my head that, hey, what I’m doing here and my plans for

the future might not go how I’m imagining,” he said.

Shukerov first got his associates degree and was able to work for a year afterward as part of the OPT program. He is now getting a bachelor’s at Cal Poly and hopes to stay for another year using the same program.

“By the time I graduate, maybe that won’t be a possibility,” Shukerov said.

Mexican exchange student and industrial engineering major Jose Andres Gonzalez Valdes also hopes to do the program.

“It gives me the opportunity to show my worth to the company I'll be working for and for them to try to keep me with them if my performance is at the level which they are looking for,” Valdes said.

Valdes is attracted to the quality of life, pay, and environment in the US and would potentially use OPT as a vehicle through which he could apply for a long-term visa. However, Valdes is less concerned about the possibility of OPT being removed.

“I'm sure they can't cancel it completely, the private sector wouldn't let that happen” he said.

While the STEM OPT program is currently still in place, changing immigration policies are affecting international students already. Cal Poly International Student and Scholar Specialist Susan Tripp said that recent regulations have posed challenges to international students.

“Some states are requiring all non-immigrants to show proof of status so we are recommending that all students carry their immigration documents with them when they travel even within the USA, which we never thought was necessary before,” Tripp said.

Increasing the difficulty for foreign students to study in the US could have far-reaching consequences. According to a study by the National Foundation for American Policy, without international students, many science and engineering graduate level programs in would be unavailable for American students.

International students make up such high numbers in these fields that many graduate programs could not continue without them. Similarly, tuition from international students keeps costs lower for American students in undergraduate programs and universities rely on the cash flow to operate.

The business world may also be affected by a revocation of STEM OPT. The Department of Homeland Security noted that hiring STEM OPT students in the US increases business’ competitiveness in economics, science, and technology and promotes research, innovation, and knowledge.

Reducing the number of foreign hires is one of the goals of recent legislation such as the “Buy American and Hire American” executive order that aim to increase jobs and opportunities for American citizens.

For students like Shukerov and Valdes, it’s a waiting game to see what, if any, changes are made.