If the new regulation proposal by the Obama administration sees the light of day, students with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) degrees can stay on in the US for a total of six years under the Optional Training Program (OPT) - three years after finishing an undergraduate program, and then if need be, another three years after a graduate program. This would give them as much work time in the US as foreign guest workers get under the H1-B program. 

Currently, depending on the degree of the student, (STEM or non-STEM), who finish either an undergraduate or graduate program from a government-certified educational institution in the US, their stay ranges between 12 to 29 months.

Over 3,00,000 graduating students from China and India use the OPT to land jobs in USA, or internships which lead to jobs, during which period and performance dependent, employers usually sponsor them for an H1-B Visa. (The H1-B visa classification permits a foreign national to work in the United States for a temporary period. It is available for offers of employment that are in a specialty occupation)

Many foreign students in the US do not get the benefit of the Visa, since the same is in huge demand, and often availed of by outsourcing body shops. This is against the liking of free traders who believe that the US should be able to retain the talent it educates and thereby benefit from it. The new proposal will favor foreign students in the US to get a job and an H1-B visa for six years.

According to a report, US remains the preferred destination for foreign students, hosting more of the world's 4.5 million globally mobile college and university students than any other country in the world, with almost double the number hosted by the United Kingdom, the second leading host country.

In the academic year 2013-2014, the number of students from India to US rose by 6 percent to 102,673, which reversed a three year declining trend at American universities. Chinese students too continued to surge in the US, nearing 300,000.

Looking at higher education in general, “The United States has more institutions of higher education than any other country, but despite the numbers it is the quality of education provided by these academic bodies which is acknowledged worldwide. The teaching forces of these institutions are leading authorities in their respective fields. The quality of the research program along with the resources available and the faculty ensures that the institutions have high standards.”

Apart from the quality of education that the country offers, are benefits like a wide range of tuition fees, accommodation options, and financial help in terms of scholarships, waivers, etc. Added to that education advantage is the benefit of earning in the US, for a period of 6 years, enabled by the H1-B Visa and thus subsidizing and perhaps negating the education costs.

Already a global hub for education, with some of the best institutions to boast of, the move will make the country even more popular with foreign students.

Manu Mital