A fraud-prone employment program involving nearly a half-million foreign students is enjoying a free ride these days. Days after taking office, President Joe Biden aborted efforts to step up regulation of the government’s little known and largely unsupervised Optional Practical Training (OPT) system.
No enforcement actions have been reported since October 2020, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that some 1,100 OPT participants would have their permits revoked. Vowing further action, then-Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli declared, “Every instance of fraud is a job an American worker could have had, and with so many Americans looking for work this crime is even more unacceptable.”
Now, with Team Biden turning a blind eye, OPT’s national security vulnerabilities and labor abuses go unchecked. With no employment caps, no market wage analyses by the Labor Department, no FICA taxes withheld and virtually no oversight, the administratively created OPT is a boon to bottom-feeding businesses. Just like Bill Gates drew it up.
“There is extensive fraud, with thousands of ‘students’ falsely reporting [their status]. DHS has no idea what they’re doing,” says Jon Feere, a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chief of staff now with the Center for Immigration Studies.
The Trump administration’s belated attempt to bring a semblance of order to the loose OPT program is yet another casualty in Biden’s war against ICE. An agency memo dated Jan. 13, 2021 (seven days before Biden’s inauguration) announced the formation of an OPT Employment Compliance Unit.
The ICE-led unit was tasked to “evaluate whether employers are adhering to the attestations and training plans required under the OPT extension, which will include on-site visitation. … This evaluation will ensure that employment through the OPT extension is commensurate with the terms and conditions of employment for other similarly situated U.S. workers, as the employer has attested to, as required by law” [emphasis added]. A full report was promised by July 31.
None of it ever happened as Biden rescinded the directive.
Preliminary investigations by the Trump administration had just begun to uncover widespread immigration fraud, including OPT students “working” for non-existent employers. Noting that Chinese nationals make up a large share of OPT participants, Feere said potential links to China’s military were obvious, and troubling. “It’s a national security nightmare,” he concluded.
With enforcement and accountability on hold, America waits for the next administration to clean up the mess. Meantime, untold damage is done daily.