Senators Urge Trump to Temporarily Suspend Foreign Student Work Program

May 8, 2020 Updated: May 8, 2020

Four senators urged President Donald Trump on Thursday to suspend the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for at least a year, or until the U.S. job market recovers from the economic falloff caused by lockdowns.

The OPT program allows international students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to work in the United States for up to three years after graduating, while still maintaining their student visa status. More than 223,000 foreigners had their OPT permits approved or extended in 2019.

“While the merits of such a program are subject to debate, there is certainly no reason to allow foreign students to stay for three additional years just to take jobs that would otherwise go to unemployed Americans as our economy recovers,” wrote Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in a letter to Trump.

The lawmakers also urged the president to suspend the H-1B skilled worker visa for a period of 60 days, arguing that the temporary suspension would not only benefit Americans who recently graduated from colleges, but also protect H-1B workers and their families who are already working in the United States from deportation if they are laid off for more than 60 days.

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Alameda Health System nurses, doctors, and workers wear personal protective equipment (PPE) during a protest asking for better working conditions and PPE in front of Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif., on March 26, 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

They said “appropriate exceptions” would be made regarding the temporary suspension of H-1B to allow foreign doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to come to the United States to join forces in combating the pandemic.

“These suspensions are critical to protecting American workers as our economy gets back on its feet,” the senators wrote. In February, the unemployment rate in the United States was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. By early May, 33 million Americans—accounting for a fifth of the nation’s workforce—had filed for unemployment benefits.

The senators’ letter comes after the April 22 Presidential Proclamation that suspended most immigrant visas for 60 days in an effort to “protect already disadvantaged and unemployed Americans” from “the threat of competition for scarce jobs from new lawful permanent residents.”

“We’ll see where we are with the economy, basically. And I think I’ll have a very easy decision to make,” Trump said at the time, when asked how the administration would decide on whether to extend the order. “I hope that the economy is going to be great by that time, but we’ll see. But, right now, in light of the fact that Americans are out of jobs, I can’t be taking in.”