Biotech Recruiting: Overview of OPT and extension for STEM students

Last month we wrote a short piece on proposed (rumors of) rule changes to H1B Visas. It sparked some conversations with our clients and since then, a couple of good articles related to H-1B’s have been published by Quartz (H-1B visas and wages : H-1B application demand outstripped supply)

Today we will provide a review of the OPT (F1) visa program (and STEP extension)

We work with Biotech clients from coast to coast and it seems like Permanent Residents, H-1B and OPT visa holders play a significant role in the organizations we serve and the ones we hope to do business with in the future. In fact, I can’t even think of any Biotech Recruiters in my network that haven’t placed someone from another country.

We understand that this is a sensitive topic but the intent of this blog post is to inform and educate, not preach or persuade.

About Optional Practical Training (OPT) and the STEM extension:

OPT allows international students to work in the USA under a F1 visa during school or immediately upon graduation in a position related to their degree. A traditional OPT would last for 12 months. STEM students used to be able to apply for a 17-month extension. Last year, Homeland Security and the Federal Government increased the STEM extension from 17 months to 24 months which means a STEM graduate could apply for, and receive permission to stay and work in the USA for up to 36 months. OPT recipients do not need employer sponsorship while on a F1 OPT visa.

OPT visas provide a number of benefits to all those involved in the process.

  • Employers benefit from increased talent supply for their open positions,
  • Students receive an opportunity to put their education to work in the USA before returning home,
  • American Universities use this perk to stay competitive in the global marketplace for international education. There was a total of 1,043,839 international students attending American universities in 2015/2016. Their financial impact to the country is estimated to be $32.8 billion that supported over 400,000 jobs.
  • American employees at American Life Sciences companies get to meet and network with foreign nationals who come from countries where the Employer may have research, manufacturing, or clinical trial sites.

Some OPT holders will try to stay in the USA after the completion of their F1 visa. At that time, they can apply for an H1B visa, or a K1 (Fiance) visa. To apply for an H1B visa, one would need sponsorship from their employer. For a K1 visa, you would need a fiancé (obviously).

The North American Association of Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA) is a non-profit organization for professionals in all areas of international education. They put together informative tool that generates reports so you can view the financial impact of international students in your state or congressional district.

The current administration has unsuccessfully tried to implement new immigration and visa polices over the past couple months but conflicting reports suggest the H1B and OPT programs will be left alone for the time being. One rumor about the OPT program is that the President is thinking about reversing last year’s STEM extension for OPT. USA, Canada, Australia, the UK, and New Zealand are top destinations for international students. Any changes to entry rules, admission policies, or employment permits, that provide additional barriers for international students will be reflected by lower enrollment numbers.

Paragon Search Group is an American biotech recruiting firm specializing in permanent positions in Process Development, CMC/Reg Affairs, Manufacturing, Project Management, and Quality for companies ranging in size from startup to Fortune 50.

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