Trump Suspends H-1B Through 2020, But Leaves OPT Intact

mcdonough dean

Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business Dean Paul Almeida: “We must enact policies that remove — rather than create — hurdles for this incredible pool of talented individuals.” File photo

When they expected an end to OPT, reactions were unified across the business school landscape: Trump’s executive order would be a mistake. It is still a mistake to curtail H-1B, they say, for however a short period.

Paul Almeida, dean and William R. Berkley chair of the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, echoed his counterparts at other top schools: International students are a vital part of graduate business education and must be embraced, not rejected.

“Each year, colleges and universities across the United States attract many of the best students from around the world,” Almeida says. “At Georgetown McDonough, we see every day how this diverse collection of talent enriches the educational experience for all of our students by bringing varied viewpoints and perspectives to our undergraduate and graduate programs. Then, upon graduation, these well-educated alumni have an opportunity to remain in the United States through initiatives like the Optional Practical Training program. They launch new businesses and add value to existing businesses, thus positively impacting our domestic economy and enhancing the competitiveness of U.S. organizations in the global economy.

“Embracing these students and graduates enables the United States to continue to foster innovation and growth across a number of existing and emerging industries. We must enact policies that remove — rather than create hurdles — for this incredible pool of talented individuals, if we are to remain leaders in the global economy.”


Rice Jones Dean Peter Rodriguez

Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business Dean Peter Rodriguez likened restrictions on international students to intentional self-harm. “What is hard to communicate to those who aren’t familiar with the H-1B visa process, or OPT and the STEM extension, is just how competitive these programs are and what it means for the U.S. to be able to employ relatively small numbers of the best talent the world has to offer,” Rodriguez tells P&Q. “Moreover, this executive order simply gets the economics wrong. These programs make U.S. firms more competitive and raise their productivity, thereby growing domestic jobs and domestic spending.

“This move is like shooting our most technologically advanced firms in the foot, hands, and lungs for the sake of a transparent political calculation.”

Brad Staats of UNC, who also is faculty director of Kenan-Flagler’s Center for the Business of Health, says talented young people around the world value one of America’s greatest competitive strengths: higher education. Why damage that?

“Today the appeal remains but barriers — from rhetoric to visa restrictions — have caused a decline in international students in the U.S.,” says Staats, whose school is among the hardest-hit in the continuing decline of international interest in U.S. business education. “In particular, applications from international students to U.S. business schools declined by 13.7% in 2019, even as they increased to Canadian and European programs, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. Changes to OPT would make this problem even worse.

“Business schools have long understood the importance of having international students. In addition to the individual qualities they bring, they have a multiplicative effect in the classroom and as part of our community with their perspectives on operating in different countries and diverse experiences. They are a vital part of their classmates’ learning, and together all students develop global competencies — attitudes, skills, knowledge and business practices — that are absolutely vital for success in the business world. This diversity of cultural experience and diversity of thought are what any business leader needs — and that kind of leader is what companies need for their organizations to compete and succeed.”


Staats says prospective graduate students today have more choices from a global standpoint than they’ve ever had. “So, to the extent that we make it less attractive to come to the U.S., international students won’t come and benefit from our education and graduate as well-trained leaders,” he says. “And some U.S. students might choose to go to other countries to get the international perspectives and interactions they can no longer get at home. If that happens, the U.S. suffers because we’re not developing great business leaders who stay here and lead our organizations in the future.

“This is not just a MBA challenge for business schools. Many students come from around the world to join our Ph.D. programs. In turn they graduate and support U.S. schools through their teaching and research. There has long been a short supply of business professors for US schools and that’s now exacerbated by the growth and success of business schools in Europe and Asia. As a nation, we need more faculty to educate our students and produce the cutting-edge research that addresses business opportunities and problems. If international students go elsewhere then this virtuous cycle is broken.

“The question remains, what happens when talented international students join the U.S. workforce? Research does not show a substitution effect. Do you believe we are cutting up shares of the same pie or do you believe that we can grow the pie and create a larger share for everyone? When it comes to our international students who graduate and then work here, the answer is that they create more opportunities. We all benefit.

“So, whether from a business school perspective or the country’s standpoint, diminishing OPT is not good for us. We don’t want to lose in the competition for the world’s top talent. If we close off paths for them in the U.S., we are worse off because we lose that growth.

“Flags that hang in front of our building at UNC Kenan-Flagler celebrate our international students. Each year we hang new flags — one for each country represented by the student body. They are a reminder that we are a globally diverse community, and stronger and better because of it.”


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