In Forbes’ Case, OPT Should Stand for “Optional Preference for Truth”

It’s no secret that the mainstream media has abandoned all pretense of objectivity in its coverage of immigration matters. Nevertheless, the lengths to which open-borders-leaning publications will go to distort the truth are still shocking.

Forbes recently published an opinion piece titled, “Next Trump Immigration Target: OPT For International Students.”  OPT stands for Optional Practical Training, which is allegedly temporary employment that is directly related to a foreign student’s major area of study.

According to Forbes senior contributor Stuart Anderson, a long-time libertarian advocate for mass immigration, “Despite the peril facing U.S. universities and America’s difficulty in attracting international students, the Trump administration may impose new restrictions on students who want to work in the United States after graduation on Optional Practical Training (OPT).” Anderson also states that, “The economic case for encouraging international students to come to America is strong, while the argument for restricting such students and their ability to work in the United States is weak.”

As fake news goes, that assertion contains at least three whoppers. To begin with, U.S. universities aren’t facing any particular peril. The COVID-19 outbreak has interrupted the normal operations of many colleges and universities. Some institutions have been forced to confront the consequences of overspending and a lack of crisis planning. However, most well-run schools decided to switch to distance-learning mode, keep calm and carry on.

And, according to the Pew Trusts, institutions of higher learning continue to be one of the largest recipients of government funding: “In 2017, federal spending on major higher education programs totaled $74.8 billion, state investments amounted to $87.1 billion, and local funding was $10.5 billion.” That’s nearly $100 billion in a single year. If institutions of higher education can’t weather the current pandemic with that much free money from Uncle Sam (plus tuition, alumni donations, charitable grants, royalties for intellectual property, sports licensing fees, etc.) flowing into their coffers, they shouldn’t be in business at all.

Moreover, the U.S. isn’t having difficulties attracting international students. According to the International Institute of Education’s Project Atlas, the United States hosts the world’s largest population of international students, roughly 1.1 million learners from all over the world. And, unlike Australia, where international students fill 30 percent of all higher education seats, foreign learners make up only 5 percent of America’s college and university population. That means that if all international students were barred from the United States (something that is profoundly unlikely to happen), American colleges and universities would still retain 95 percent of their student bodies.

As for the notion that president Trump is unfairly “targeting” students on OPT – it’s an outright lie. There is absolutely no statutory authorization for foreign students to accept any kind of employment in the United States – meaning that Congress has never passed a law permitting it.

OPT is the result of a cumulative over-interpretation of a regulation promulgated by the Department of Justice in 1953. The initial regulation, found at 18 Fed. Reg. 3,526 was intended to facilitate internships and apprenticeships under the auspices of a “training agency.” In plain English, that means post-graduate training for psychologists, engineers, etc., possibly covered by a small stipend.

However, over the years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, followed by the Department of Homeland Security, repeatedly caved to business and higher education lobbyists, alien grievance groups, and international student advocates. Without ever seeking legislative approval from Congress, the immigration agencies expanded the OPT program until it turned into a pipeline through which employers who are in search of cheap, foreign labor audition potential H-1B guest workers.

Like the H-1B program, the OPT program has been rife with fraud and abuse. And, like the H-1B program, there is no evidence that OPT benefits anyone other than the foreign nationals using it to work and the American companies choosing cheap foreign labor over U.S. workers.

Far from attempting to take aim at foreign students, at the expense of U.S. colleges and universities, President Trump has made consistent efforts to rein in an unauthorized program that gives the interests of foreigners priority over those of American students and workers.

In the end, rather than delivering balanced coverage of the news, Forbes, which provides Anderson with a regular forum,seems to be targeting President Trump, in order to further an open borders agenda.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.