The number of foreign college students who earn a degree in the United States and then stay to enter the workforce after graduation is on the rise,.

“Between 2004 and 2016, nearly 1.5 million foreign graduates of U.S. colleges and universities obtained authorization to remain and work in the U.S. through the federal government’s Optional Practical Training program,” according to the Pew Research Center.

The OPT program provides foreign students in F-1 non-immigrant status with the opportunity for an extension to stay and work after graduation. The extension can last up to 12 months, with the exception of STEM students who have the opportunity to stay in the U.S. for 24 months, according to the official website of the Department of Homeland Security.

Pew released that a little over half the foreign graduates search for employment within the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,

Since the introduction of the STEM OPT extension in 2008, there has been a 400 percent increase in the number of foreign STEM graduates participating in OPT, according to the Pew study.

“The time and opportunity I had to study at BYU-I and work in the U.S. prepared me to help my family and my community in Mexico,” said Raquel Gerardo, a BYU-Idaho alumni who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management. “I learned so much from the opportunities that I was given in the U.S. and it gave me an advantage with the internships here in Mexico. Education is essential.”

Gerardo now lives in Tijuana, Mexico, and works for a software company. She had thoughts of living in the U.S. but decided to go to Mexico with her husband.

“Not everyone has a chance to learn English and get an education to that level,” Gerardo said to The New York Times. “I remember as a kid, my father would take me to the factory. Now that I’m an adult, I realize that people’s education levels are very mixed. If you are under, you are under. If you are the boss, all the respect is for you.”

While many international students have the opportunity to stay and work, not all foreign students plan to leave the U.S. after graduating.

“Venezuela may need help but the opportunities are abundant in the U.S.,” said Alejandro Lopez, a junior majoring in sociology. “I am a dreamer, but when I graduate I plan to stay and work here because I feel like my future family would benefit more from what I can earn in the U.S.”

While Lopez does have family in Venezuela, his immediate family resides in Florida.

“I also have opportunities in Florida that are waiting for me and that can take me further than the poverty of Venezuela,” said Lopez.

BYU-I was home to 3,403 international degree-seeking students that were on-campus or online during the Winter 2018 semester, according to BYU-I’s website.