DHS Takes Money from Trust Funds and Gives It to USCIS, Aliens’ Employers, and Some Aliens in a Reverse Double Play: Chance-to-Evers-to-Tinker

By David North on March 14, 2023

In a new move, DHS is taking some funds indirectly from the Social Security and Medicare programs and giving it to USCIS, aliens’ employers, and sometimes to the foreign workers themselves; we are engaged in a bit of financial reverse engineering — DHS does not describe it in the realistic manner used here.

What the agency says in a press release headline is: “USCIS Announces Premium Processing; New Online-Filing Procedures for Certain F-1 Students Seeking OPT or STEM OPT Extensions”.

Starting March 6, USCIS is accepting money ($1,500) to speed decisions (usually approvals) for foreign students and alumni from American universities who have pending I-765 petitions seeking employment authorization in the federally subsidized Optional Practical Training Programs. In these programs, neither the student/alumnus nor his employer must pay the usual payroll taxes unless he has been here for less than five years. The agency calls it “premium processing”.

In the best upper-crust tea party tradition — one must never discuss money in polite society — the press release does not mention the premium processing fee or the fact that this is not only a foreign worker program, it is a federally subsidized one.

Let’s follow the money trail here. First, the alien must pay two fees, $410 for the I-765 and $1,500 for the premium processing. Then the employer and often the alien (OPT) worker engage in an employment relationship without the usual payroll taxes, thus depriving the Social Security, Medicare and federal unemployment insurance system of about 8 percent of the payroll. That deduction deprives those trust funds of $4,000 a year from the employer in all cases, and another $4,000 a year from the alien if he has been here for less than five years — assuming a $50,000 a year salary, which has been typical for new college grads in recent years.

Thus the $1,910 in fees is soon overwhelmed by the subsidy of $4,000 or $8,000 a year.

Premium processing has long been part of the H-1B and some other migrant worker programs, with the employer usually paying the fee. This is the first time it is being used in the OPT program and, to my knowledge, the first time in which the worker — not the employer — pays the fee.

For the non-baseball fan: Joe Tinker, shortstop, Johnny Evers, second baseman, and Frank Chance, first baseman, were a stand-out double play trio for the Chicago Cubs more than a century ago.