Starting a career in the U.S. : international student perceptions of the optional practical training experience
The Optional Practical Training (OPT) program offers a pathway for international students to begin their professional career in the United States. Originally a one year training program, students with a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) are now eligible for an additional two year OPT extension while on their student visa. The rapidly growing number of STEM students participating in an OPT experience indicates the increasing importance of this program to both students and employers. This qualitative study examined how students eligible for the STEM OPT extension perceive their transition from an academic setting to a work environment. Eight students on OPT were interviewed to identify the factors that had the greatest influences on their career decisions, and how OPT regulations and U.S. immigration policies influenced these decisions. These students acknowledged the professional opportunities that OPT provides, but also recognized that their OPT position was temporary and the program limits their career choices. They believe the ability for international students to secure employment in the U.S. is becoming more difficult due to the complicated nature of OPT regulations and uncertainties surrounding immigration policies. The students hoped universities could do more to inform employers about the OPT program in an effort to increase employer participation. They also acknowledged that their career success depends upon both outside influences and self-determination.
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