DHS Report on Foreign Students: Lots of Numbers, No Analysis

By David North on September 2, 2020

There are many governmental annual reports of varying degrees of utility, but the one with the puzzling title of "SEVIS by the Numbers" is a prime candidate for the distinction of being the most useless, and most insipid of them all.

Released late last week by the Department of Homeland Security, it is the annual report of the entity charged with regulating the foreign student business; that entity is the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), a subset of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). SEVP, in turn, has a data collection system known as the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), hence the strange and inward-looking name of the report.

That SEVP is a regulatory agency is all but invisible in the report, which devotes most of its pages to a not-very-good census-type tally of America's foreign students. Page after page looks like this:

The unusual and not very helpful criterion is the nations that: "saw the greatest fluctuation in enrollments in the reporting period calendar year 2018 to calendar year 2019." So the data that stands out in this section indicates that Malta sent us 16 more students in 2019 than in 2018.

The report is full of such statistical trivia; for example, we learn on p. 27 that one of the nation's lesser institutions of higher learning, the American Samoa Community College, lost 60 percent of its foreign students in 2018-2019. That enrollment fell from — wait for it — five to two. It is the only institution of higher learning in the territory.

There is nothing in the report about the agency's regulatory work — such as which colleges are allowed to teach foreign students, and which are not. There is no hint that the number of foreign students in the United States may be controversial, or any indication that many of those counted in this document are not students at all; they are aliens who are now alumni of U.S. institutions who hold subsidized jobs in the American economy as OPT (Optional Practical Training) workers in the nation's second-largest foreign worker program after H-1B. For more on the largely hidden subsidies in the OPT program see here.

Then there's the question of the relative overstay rate of foreign students vis-a-vis all other nonimmigrant groups; their overstay rate was 3.7 percent, higher than any other, as my colleague Jessica Vaughan reported, based on earlier DHS data. Does "Sevis by the Numbers" mention these numbers? No.

Think about Dr. Pangloss from Voltaire's "Candide", equipped with both blinders and an adding machine, as the report's author.

On the other hand, while the OPT program was never mentioned in earlier versions of "SEVIS by the Numbers" it does get some text in this one. Given Dr. Pangloss's sunny disposition, however, we are not told that U.S. employers are subsidized to hire foreign alumni (rather than American college grads); nor are we told that something like $2 billion a year is lost (because of this program) by our trust funds for Medicare and Social Security. (Employers of OPT workers are excused from paying the payroll tax — should they opt to hire U.S. college grads, they must pay these costs, which run to about 8 percent of the wage level.)

What "SEVIS by the Numbers" has to say about the OPT program is severely limited by either its blinders, or a lack of thoughtfulness. It tells us on p. 3 (using about as many words as possible) that:

  • There were 140,137 pre- and post-completion optional practical training (OPT) students with both an employment authorization document (EAD) and who reported working for an employer in calendar year 2019, compared to 145,564 in calendar year 2018 — a nearly four percent decrease.
  • There were 72,168 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) OPT students with both an EAD and who reported working for an employer in calendar year 2019, compared to 69,650 in calendar year 2018 — a 3.6 percent increase.
  • There were 116,337 curricular practical training (CPT) students who reported working for an employer in calendar year 2019, compared to 151,525 in calendar year 2018, more than a 23 percent decrease.

Were we to total those numbers, we would see that all three forms of OPT combined fell from 366,739 in 2018 to 328,642 in 2019, a welcome decrease of 10.4 percent, possibly freeing up 38,000 or so jobs for citizen college grads (a possibility that the report, of course, does not mention.)

But the question remains: Are we to add up these three sets of numbers, one for each category, as we have done in the prior paragraph? Or is there too much overlap, with individual alumni (not "students") holding positions in two or more categories within the year, to make such calculations possible. That SEVP does not add these three numbers suggests that the overlap is a problem.

SEVP loves to run full-page tables, showing, for instance, "the top 25 employers for students participating in pre- and post-completion OPT in calendar year 2019" as it does on p. 7 of the report. Some of the workers were, in fact, students, some, probably most, were alumni, and some (as we will show) were illegal aliens.

Fourth on this list is Masswell Development Group, Inc., 12th is Integra Technologies, 15th is Veridic Solutions, and last is XCG Design Corporation. The reader has probably heard of none of them. Their presence on this list without any mention of the subject we are about to raise — not even an asterisk — suggests the profound lack of care behind this whole report.

You see, four companies listed as major employers in 2019 on p. 8 of the report have been exposed as "pretend employers", fraudsters who collected fees from foreign alumni to report, falsely, to SEVIS, that they were employers of the aliens, when they were not. This gave the aliens involved an aura of legality.

I wrote about Integra, Veridic, and XCG Design in this connection here and here. The San Francisco NBC News station reported on Masswell Development Group on November 27, 2019, noting that the main person at Masswell had been indicted by federal prosecutors in New Jersey.

So almost two years after we reported this scam, SEVP runs a list of 25 big firms using one of its programs, failing to note that four of them have been exposed as crooks and that in one case, that of Masswell, the scam apparently persisted for three years after the firm was dissolved.

But all that is in the real world, not in the happier one occupied by Dr. Pangloss and SEVP.