Less than two weeks after it created, a federal office tasked to track a fraud-ridden foreign student work program has been closed.
The Optional Practical Training (OPT) Employment Compliance Unit was set up Jan. 13 with orders to report on the duties, hours and compensation of OPT workers. But President Joe Biden’s deputies, apparently uninterested in such data, shut down the office on Jan. 26.
In 2020 annual report to Congress, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman concluded that OPT lacked necessary oversight, with little capacity to confirm that assertions made by students or employers are true. Last summer, DHS deported or refused re-admission to 4,600 former OPT participants after the agency determined they used fraudulent documents.
OPT and its allied Curricular Practical Training program have expanded to more than 500,000 authorized enrollees in recent years. “Because this program has grown rapidly and is likely to be significantly more impactful to the labor market than we had originally estimated, it is critical that we collect and report wage and related data with the greatest amount of transparency,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in establishing the compliance office.
An underlying problem with OPT has been highlighted by the Center for Immigration Studies, which found that employers enjoy an effective 8.25 percent subsidy on every worker hired through the program because of an allowable payroll tax exemption. Such a deal is not available for employment of U.S. citizens or green card holders, disadvantaging them in the workplace.
The whiplash effect of starting and stopping federal oversight might have been avoided had the Trump administration not waited until its last week to open the compliance unit. Indeed, more robust reporting requirements could have been implemented years ago.
Given OPT’s sketchy record, this was a lost opportunity for much-needed transparency. Now Team Biden has turned out the lights.