Pinch me! I must be dreaming. After years of displacing U.S. tech workers, the Optional Practical Training program has finally appeared on Congress’ radar. OPT has gobbled up U.S. jobs at an alarming rate and is now larger than the notorious H-1B visa program, created as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, that grants 85,000 employment-based visas to foreign nationals each year even though there’s an abundance of skilled American workers available.
OPT has accounted for more than 200,000 foreign students remaining in the U.S. to work in each of the last few years. Overall, between 2008 and 2016, OPT workers increased by 400 percent. It’s important to know that Congress never approved OPT; no public comment period was provided, and the program exists solely through regulation.
The abused OPT evolved from the F-1 student visa which originally granted overseas students permission to study in the U.S., and then have brief on-the-job training that was unavailable to the students in their home countries. The government’s original intention was that students, after completing their academic curriculum and training, would return home to use newly acquired education and skills for the betterment of their homelands.
Over the years, the government made adjustments. But the haymaker punch as far as U.S. workers are concerned came not during a congressional session as one might expect, but rather at a Washington, D.C., cocktail party of elites. Over drinks, Microsoft’s Bill Gates cried to then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that his company, and other multibillion-dollar tech corporations, needed more H-1Bs but were unable to sway Congress. Tech lobbyists and DHS then concocted a scheme that eventually evolved into OPT for students with science, technology, engineering and math degrees (STEM) receiving work permission for up to the program’s current 42-month level. An extra bonus for craven employers is that unlike H-1B visas, OPT has no numerical cap and no government oversight.
An 11-year-old lawsuit challenging OPT is in a circular pattern going nowhere. Candidate Trump indicated an interest in squelching OPT, but as president his interest has dimmed. Enter U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) who is introducing legislation to end the job-killing, corporate enriching OPT. Gosar also is urging President Trump to sign an executive order that would terminate OPT. In his no-nonsense letter to President Trump, Gosar wrote that the media and corporations have promoted the false narrative that no qualified U.S. workers are available.
Bloomberg Law reporter Laura Francis provided readers with valuable insights into why employers addicted to cheap labor covet OPT workers, and why they prefer the foreign nationals to Americans – employers get a “15.3 percent tax discount for hiring OPT workers instead of U.S. workers.” Among those that have profited the most by spurning Americans in favor of international students are the usual suspects: Amazon (3,655), Intel (1,707), Google (1,501), Microsoft (1,022), Facebook (798) and IBM (633) were in 2017 top OPT employers. DHS data showed that Amazon earned nearly $25 million in tax breaks for hiring foreign nationals instead of U.S. tech workers.
Deconstructing how OPT grew into the job-eating monster it’s become begins with that tony cocktail party. One of the world’s richest men, Gates, whose net worth then exceeded $50 billion, approached one of the federal government’s most powerful officials, Chertoff, and they concocted a scheme to present to the Obama administration, the most anti-American worker presidency in U.S. history. The co-conspirators’ strategy was simple and successful – proceed in stealth, keep the public mired in darkness and, at all costs, keep Congress out of it.
With luck, Gosar’s intervention will encourage President Trump to take long-overdue action, and end OPT.