A recent Bloomberg article misses the mark when it laments the fact that “science and math grads from overseas are seeing their job offers withdrawn and could lose access to U.S. visa programs that feed big tech companies.”
The piece begins by highlighting an anecdotal story of a foreign student studying in the United States. The student hoped to take advantage of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which extends foreign students’ visas after graduation from a U.S. university for up to three years, and exempts their employers from payroll taxes.
But because of the COVID-19 outbreak, many students, including the story’s featured student, won’t be able to partake in the program. Many businesses continue to declare bankruptcy due to stay-at-home orders. Immigration offices have also closed to protect their workers from the disease. Since the OPT visa is becoming more difficult to obtain, the article highlights how foreign students are returning back to their country of origins and left empty handed.
The piece portrays foreign students as victims of harsh U.S. immigration policy, rather than current economic realities.
What is not mentioned in the piece is that more than 36 million Americans or roughly one in five American workers has filed for unemployment since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. With so many Americans displaced from work, why would the United States import foreign workers who are not citizens and who are here temporarily? Many of these unemployed Americans are qualified to take on STEM positions. As Rutgers University Professor Hal Salzman said before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest of the Judiciary Committee, “the U.S. educates an ample supply of qualified STEM workers, [but]we see the continued expansion of policies that shift work to offshore labor.”
Furthermore, importing a large number of foreign workers depresses American wages. At a time when many Americans are furloughed or received wage reductions, why would the country want to further decrease American wages so that foreign workers obtain a job? U.S. elected officials have a responsibility to protect the well-being of their constituents, rather than foreign nationals who are hoping to gain employment through a program that, as its very name suggests, is purely optional.
What is also omitted from the piece is that the OPT program has numerous vulnerabilities. In fact, the visa has a documented history of fraud and abuse and recently has become a potential vehicle for Chinese espionage against the United States.
In the 2018-2019 school year, Chinese nationals represented approximately 370,000 of the 1.1 million student visa holders. In recent years, the Chinese government has succeeded in pillaging Western technology by sending students to study in the United States and other countries that innovate. Many of these students have direct ties to the Chinese military or the ruling regime.
The potential for Chinese government-backed espionage on Americans is not unfounded. For example, in 2017, these officials breached the credit reporting company Equifax, in which the personal information of some 150 million Americans was stolen.
The reality of this situation is that the OPT program does not serve the national interest at this moment in time and may have never have. Since its inception in 1953, without even congressional authorization, it has grown into a massive foreign employment program that was never intended. In its current form it gives U.S. universities and cheap labor businesses additional revenue and tax breaks—all at the expense of the American worker and taxpayer. It simply places international and corporate interests before American interests.
Competition from foreign labor at a time of record unemployment may explain why so many Americans are on board in halting immigration during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, this idea is supported by 79 percent of the American public. The support cuts across all party, ideological, and demographic lines.
The reality is that foreign students who study in the United States fully understand at the time of their application that their time in the country is not permanent. At any time, their visa can be revoked. Simply studying at a U.S. university also does not guarantee a job or permanent legal status.
Simply put, Bloomberg misses the mark here.