Don't Look for Truth in Headlines when Reading DHS Press Releases

By David North, October 19, 2015

The Department of Homeland Security press release that went out Friday afternoon — the time a skilled pressie knows that readership will be low — carried this headline: "DHS proposes changes related to on-the-job training program for STEM students".

The word "change" is correct, but there is no training in this program. It is just one more foreign worker program and it has nothing to do with students; it is for recent alien college graduates.

A much more accurate headline would have been: "DHS Proposes Bonuses for Employers Who Hire Aliens Rather than Citizens".

The so-called Optional Practical Training (OPT) program currently gives all recent alien college graduates a one-year-long, after-graduation work permit. If the alien student has majored in any of the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math), as many of them do, he or she gets an additional 17 months of permitted work.

During these periods U.S. employers are given a substantial bonus for hiring an alien college grad rather than an American college grad with the same skills and the same salary; I figure it can be above $10,000 in many cases involving STEM workers.

Why does the 10 grand bonus go along with the decision to hire the foreign worker?

DHS, by defining a recent college grad as a student, takes both the worker and the employer out from under payroll taxes — thus penalizing the Social Security and Medicare trust funds directly, and our elders indirectly. Congress did not make this decision, at least not directly; but since foreign students and their employers have privileges denied to citizens and green card holders alike, the bonus has been created.

In the current document, DHS proposes to extend the additional 17 months for STEM workers to 24 months; thus from a total period of 29 months to 36 months, about a 20 percent increase. If the bonus given to employers for hiring a STEM graduate is worth $10,000 under the old rules, it is now worth $12,000, and is that much more likely to cause an employer to hire a former F-1 student than a green card or citizen graduate.

I searched the proposed rule that appears in today's Federal Register for references to payroll taxes (FICA, the Federal Insurance Contributions Act) and found none. I guess DHS does not want us to know about the generous tax break that both employers and aliens get from this program. I find it intellectually dishonest not to mention this tax break in a long, extremely detailed document on this subject.

In a piece of window dressing, employers are barred from replacing U.S. citizen workers with OPT workers. That's a tiny step forward, but the problem has rarely been replacement; it is the displacement of potential citizen workers by hiring alien ones.

Further, there is supposed to be a mentoring and monitoring program established to reduce abuses and to give the alien workers a better shake. That's fine, but how is the University of Maine, say, going to mentor that former physics major now working in Hawaii? Unfortunately the policing of this program is assigned to universities, which, in turn, are more or less supervised by the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), much the sleepiest and least demanding of all the migration-control agencies.