Fresh U.S. graduates can have a longer OPT in US

Nineteen United States of America senators request an extension of the period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) given to a foreign student following his/her graduation from a United States university. This proposed increase to a 29-month timeframe from the current term of only 12 months will increase the chances of successful H1B visa petitions for many Macedonians that have graduated American colleges and intend to work in the United States. The current H1-B working visa annual cap for foreigh based professionals in the United States is only 65,000 per year and is fulfilled within days.

Nineteen U.S. senators sent a to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff on November 8, 2007, requesting an extension of the period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) given to a foreign student following his/her graduation from a U.S. university or institution of higher education. The current F-1 OPT period is 12 months; the senators’ letter requested that this be increased to 29 months. The primary reason for this request is to facilitate the transition from student to H1B worker, and to address problems that have arisen from the insufficient H1B annual cap allotment.

The senators’ letter explains the problem experienced during Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 with respect to the H1B cap. In FY2008, the USCIS received more cases on the very first day than the H1B cap permitted for the entire fiscal year. The first day for an eligible employer to submit an H1B cap-subject case for FY2008 was Monday, April 2, 2007. The USCIS continued to accept H1B petitions on April 3, 2007, because the regulations state that, if the H1B cap limit is reached on the first day cases are accepted, filings are allowed to continue on the second day. A random lottery then is held to determine which cases will be assigned the limited H1B cap numbers. In FY2008, about half of the cases filed on April 2nd and 3rd were rejected due to the shortfall of cap numbers. The USCIS was no longer able to accept any regular (not advanced-degree) H1B cap-subject cases on April 4, 2007.

Many students are awarded degrees in May and June each year. For the most part, employers and potential employers of 2007 graduates, however, were unable to file H1B cases for these recent graduates. Students who had exhausted OPT during their studies were unable to remain in the U.S. to put their knowledge and skills to use in the workforce. The lack of H1B numbers also impacted 2006 graduates, who otherwise would have transitioned to H1B status in FY2007. Many of these individuals also could not obtain the coveted H1B cap numbers, and, as stated in the letter, they were lost to competing countries, while U.S. employers lost the investment they had made in these professionals.

The letter was signed by a bi-partisan group of nineteen U.S. senators who deserve our gratitude. They include: Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), John Cornyn ( R-TX), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Robert Bennett (R- UT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), John Kerry (D-MA), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Gordon Smith ( R-OR), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA).