Next Trump Immigration Target: OPT For International Students

Originally posted on / Stuart Anderson

Despite the peril facing U.S. universities and America’s difficulty in attracting international students, the Trump administration may impose new restrictions on students who want to work in the United States after graduation on Optional Practical Training (OPT). New measures also could be aimed at students from China, by far the largest source of international students for U.S. universities.

On April 22, 2020, the Trump administration issued a presidential proclamation suspending the entry of most new immigrants for at least 60 days and ordered a 30-day review to recommend new restrictions on temporary visa holders.

In an April 27, 2020, radio interview with Brian Kilmeade, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf indicated Optional Practical Training is an administration target. Kilmeade asked about Sen. Tom Cotton’s argument that Chinese students should be banned from studying in technical fields in America because they go back to China with that knowledge.

“From a Department of Homeland Security perspective, we’re certainly very concerned about the number of visa programs that Chinese students can use to come into the country and study and stay, and eventually work,” said Wolf. “We see some of these programs have been potentially abused in the past. This is work that’s been well underway at the Department. I know Sen. Cotton is very outspoken about China and his concerns. The Department has also been on this issue for a period of time as well. Again, we’ll have a series of recommendations that we’ll be teeing up and some of those could include students on what we call . . . OPT and CPT, Optional Practical Training, and a lot of those are utilized by Chinese students who could potentially stay here and work. So, yes, it is a concern that the Department’s highlighted as well.”

Efforts to place new restrictions on Chinese students and Optional Practical Training may be an effort to seize on the coronavirus crisis to enact long-standing policy goals, just as the presidential proclamation contained nearly identical provisions on legal immigration to those of a White House-designed bill that the U.S. Senate rejected in February 2018. In 2015, Stephen Miller, now the chief architect of the Trump administration’s immigration policy, helped draft a bill (S. 2394) for Senators Jeff Sessions and Ted Cruz that would have eliminated Optional Practical Training and prohibited almost all international students from working in the United States after receiving a degree unless they first worked 10 years outside the country.

In 2018, the Financial Times reported the Trump administration considered banning all Chinese students from the United States. “Stephen Miller, a White House aide who has been pivotal in developing the administration’s hardline immigration policies, pushed the president and other officials to make it impossible for Chinese citizens to study in th