In the strongest action yet against a rapidly expanding migrant work program, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is deporting or refusing readmission to 4,600 former foreign students for their use of fraudulent documents.
DHS said the students, educated at U.S. colleges, paid a falsified employer to give them “reference letters” to maintain legal status through the Optional Training Program (OPT) while working, illegally, for other companies.
The expulsions and visa revocations may be just a sliver off a very large iceberg. In its 2020 Annual Report to Congress, DHS’ Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman concluded that OPT lacks checks and balances, with little capacity to actually confirm that the assertions made by students or employers are true.
“While practical training affords numerous advantages to foreign students, schools and U.S. employers, OPT remains a source of concern due to its vulnerability to fraud and indicators that it is being leveraged by foreign governments as a means of conducting espionage or illicit technology transfer,” wrote Michael Dougherty, DHS’ ombudsman, in the report.
The DHS report identified a key weakness in Designated School Officials (DSO), who are responsible for accepting, collating and forwarding OPT certifications. The audit found that DSOs do not have the time, resources, or expertise to recognize fraud, misrepresentations or national security risks. Its findings echoed the Government Accountability Office, which has repeatedly pointed to DSOs as a vulnerability.
Beyond DSOs, the government itself has a structural problem, with multiple agencies overseeing parts of OPT. Inside DHS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are involved, as is the State Department. This bureaucratic stove-piping can stymie effective regulation.
These are big red flags for a program that has ballooned from 24,838 participants in 2007 to more than 200,000. Two of the top five sending nations are China and Iran, neither of whose governments’ interests or policies aligns with this country’s.
Another major participant is India, whose citizens constituted the bulk of the individuals involved in the DHS removal. Integra Technologies, LLC, based in Wilmington, Delaware, was reported to have 3,517 OPT students.
In 2018, FAIR noted that “U.S. universities and bottom-feeding employers love OPT because schools get more foreign tuition revenue and businesses get subsidized labor with an 8.25 percent federal tax break (effectively a $10,000-$15,000 discount on each hire).”
Now that the Trump administration is sending home or barring a batch of fraudulent OPT student workers, DHS should also go after those who aided and hired them. There are plenty of players in this game.