The largest guest-worker program in America’s immigration system is getting bigger. Skirting regulatory processes, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced last month that even more jobs will be open to foreign nationals through Optional Practical Training (OPT).
Expanding the subsidized student employment program is a lose-lose proposition that further disadvantages U.S. workers and comes at the expense of programs for the elderly and sick, and job opportunities for qualified American workers, says David North of the Center for Immigration Studies.
Nearly 500,000 foreign students are currently employed through OPT. Though the program is riddled with fraud, President Joe Biden last year scotched efforts to step up regulation of the largely unsupervised system never approved by Congress.
Now, by administrative fiat, Biden & Co. are expanding OPT by adding 22 new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) employment categories, ranging from Anthrozoology and “Data Analytics, Other” to Cloud Computing and Climate Science.
While most appear to be legitimate occupations, DHS gives foreign students an inside track to all of them because their work is cut rate. Employers are exempt from payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare, saving them $4,000 or more per student hire, but shortchanging two essential programs for Americans.
Sweetening the pot for foreign students – with colleges rushing to reclassify non-STEM degrees as STEM – DHS grants aliens in STEM jobs a second year of employment (and an extension of legal residency) via OPT.
North offers a modest solution: Open more jobs for American college grads by limiting alien eligibility to the top half of their graduating class, and, of course, removing the unnecessary tax break. “The current OPT program can be used to subsidize jobs that go to an alien who has managed to scrape through some marginal, unaccredited, for-profit college,” he notes.
John Miano, a lawyer and former computer science professor who has written about workplace abuses, likes the idea. But he’s not holding his breath. “DHS worked in secret to make these changes — the same way STEM OPT was created in the first place. This is how democracy dies in darkness.”