At an October 21 press conference, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials announced the arrest of 15 foreign student-workers for fraudulently claiming to be working for companies that did not exist. In addition, as many as 1,100 foreign nationals participating in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program either will have their permits revoked or not renewed.
The actions are the preliminary results of Operation OPTical Illusion, a law enforcement operation which began in January with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents investigating OPT employers to establish their validity when they discovered many OPT students were working for the same company, which did not actually exist, according to Acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli.
In his remarks, Cuccinelli stressed that since almost 99 percent of workers have already graduated when they gain employment, OPT “is more a work program that places those foreign nationals in direct competition” with U.S. workers. Therefore, combatting ongoing fraud serves another purpose because it “will open up those jobs for American workers,” he added.
“What we have seen in this area is what I would call not likely complicit, but a willful ignorance or a level of negligence that leads us down the path of terminating their role as designated school officials,” said the acting director of designated school officials (DSOs), whose sole responsibility is overseeing OPT students.
But there are also larger national security interests to be served in bringing alleged fraudsters to justice.
“The unfortunate reality is that criminals, terrorists and other national security threats have exploited and will continue to exploit the visa process in furtherance of their illicit endeavors,” said ICE Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director Tony Pham of the results of Phase 1 of the operation.
Pham’s warning echoed those of previous ICE officials.
“It is something that can be exploited by types who want to do harm to the country,” stated Claude Arnold, a DHS special agent during the Obama administration, after a 2015 raid led to the arrests of three individuals for running fake universities.
Pham and Arnold’s concerns about national security are in stark contrast to the fecklessly canned reaction from university special interest groups.
Esther Brimmer, executive director of NAFSA: Association of International Educators responded with a defensive statement that ignored the harm the fraud does to legitimate foreign students and American graduates alike.
“What is clear is that this administration feels justified in making international students, and now the school officials that support them scapegoats for the nation’s economic woes, at a time when it can ill-afford to do so,” said Brimmer in a statement absent any concern for the Americans standing in the unemployment line as OPT workers sat in illegally-obtained jobs.
Operation OPTical Illusion is merely the latest argument made for ending, not mending, a program that acts as nothing more than a springboard to H-1B visas and cheats qualified Americans out of professional opportunities.
Why not try to mend it?
Consider the arguments made by lawmakers and think tanks on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as non-partisan government organizations:
- OPT has no authority in law because it was created through regulatory action in 1992.
- It was expanded in 2008 despite countless findings of fraud, lax oversight, and bipartisan efforts to reform it.
- In 2011, more than 1,000 foreign students had their OPT status revoked after their involvement in fraud was exposed.
- A 2015 Brookings Institution brief found the #1 source of STEM foreign students into U.S. were graduates of Tri-Valley University and University of Northern Virginia – schools that would were closed for visa fraud.
- A 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found DHS could not identify 38 percent of student employers – a grave security risk.
- OPT employers ostensibly receive a subsidy for hiring foreign nationals because they are not required to pay Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes on those workers.
Maybe Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) makes the simplest case for finally killing OPT.
“Attaching a green card to each international student’s diploma would only accelerate this process and crowd more and more American students out of a chance to achieve their dreams,” Grassley said during a July 2011 Senate committee hearing.