President Obama has proposed to extend the time some immigrant students can stay and work in the United States after they graduate from college, and some in Congress are unhappy because they say these students take and keep jobs that should go to Americans.
The Optional Practical Training allows students to stay in the United States and work under their student visas after graduation. The program, which involved more than 100,000 of the nation’s 1 million foreign exchange students in 2013, allows students in any field to stay 12 months beyond graduation to receive practical experience.
Since 2008, those in science, technology, engineering and math have been allowed to stay an additional 17 months beyond that, for a total of 29 months. The administration has proposed increasing the extension for these majors to 24 months, which means they would be able to work a full three years in the U.S. beyond graduation on their student visas. If they subsequently earn a master’s degree, they can stay another three years.
And Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has weighed in against the expansion of the program. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed concerns.
Grassley wrote, “The proposed new regulations, while still being internally discussed, are irresponsible and dangerous considering the Government Accountability Office report issued in March 2014 finding that the program was full of inefficiencies, susceptible to fraud, and that the department was not adequately overseeing it.”
Grassley cited a report from the Government Accountability Office that found, “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, has not identified or assessed fraud or noncompliance risks posed by schools that recommend and foreign students approved for optional practical training, in accordance with DHS risk management guidance.”
Grassley asked Johnson to reconsider the rule and cancel the program. Or, failing that, to implement some key reforms, including:
1) Increase oversight and monitoring compliance by schools as well as foreign students and those who employ them
2) Ensure that employment is secured before any Optional Practical Training is granted
3) Ensure that foreign students report any changes in employment to designated school officials and be held accountable if they do not
4) Ensure that designated school officials are notifying the department about the whereabouts of their students, including the employer’s name and location and be held accountable if they do not
5) Require that employers who hire any foreign student with Optional Practical Training be enrolled in E-Verify
6) Require employers to pay a reasonable wage to foreign students with Optional Practical Training
7) Require employers of students with Optional Practical Training to pay a fee equal to the wage savings from not having to pay FICA payroll taxes for Optional Practical Training workers, in order to level the playing field between Optional Practical Training and American workers
8) More closely bind Optional Practical Training training to the student’s academic course of study
9) Establish avenues for foreign students to report employer abuse
10) Place a numerical cap on the number of foreign students who may receive a work authorization
Grassley requested a response from Johnson no later than Monday, June 22. As of press time, Grassley had not heard back, according to his office.