DHS Takes Tiny Steps on Visa Mills, and Maybe on the OPT Program as Well

By David North on September 29, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security last week announced proposed regulations that will have a tiny impact on visa mills, and perhaps on the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program as well, but one needs a microscope to identify these changes.

Visa mills are fourth-rate, post-secondary educational institutions that give aliens a smattering of education plus documentation that allows them, usually instantly, to get jobs in the United States — jobs through the Optional Practical Training program that are subsidized by the absence of payroll taxes (because of the legal fiction that the workers are still "students"). No citizen college grads, or their employers, get these subsidies.

The proposed regulations were announced in a press release that carried the bland title: "DHS Proposes to Change Admission Period Structure for F, J and I Nonimmigrants".

Most international students have F-1 visas; J nonimmigrants includes some students, some scholars, and some others; those carrying the I visas are representatives of the foreign media, an odd combination. Fs and Js make serious impacts on the U.S. labor market, while the comparatively tiny I program does not. In my decades of work with the U.S. immigration system, I have never seen these three programs listed together.

The basic change contemplated by DHS is to create somewhat tighter control of the foreign student population and foreign journalists; any impacts on visa mills or the OPT program are minor parts of the scheme.

Currently, nonimmigrants in these three groups are admitted for varying periods, depending on the length of the program involved. Under the new regulations, most students would have to re-apply for the status after four years, and some (in suspect classes) after two years. The foreign journalists (who will probably protest) are to be admitted initially for a period of no more than 240 days, "with an opportunity to extend their stay for a maximum of 240 days based on the length of relevant activities."

That sounds like no foreign reporter could stay here for more than 480 days, and will probably be interpreted by them as threatening their status by the shortness of permitted stays, but that's someone else's area of concern.

Visa Mills and the OPT Program. In addition to the four-years rule for the F-1 visas (which can be extended) there is a provision calling for — on a one-at-a-time basis — reduction of this to two years for individuals regarded as possibly problematic. According to the release: "Additional factors that may trigger a two-year period ... include ... whether [a student is at] a school accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Secretary of Education."

Thus if an alien's status as a student is in question, and if the alien goes to one of a handful of-non-accredited schools, then that status is in further trouble.

Frankly, the non-accredited schools are not numerous, and should be totally banned from the foreign student business, so this is only a tiny, tiny step in the right direction. The problem is that it is all too easy for a marginal school to be licensed by a state, and accredited by a DoED-recognized entity, as we have reported in the past.

While the word "accredited" appears in the text of the press release, the words "Optional Practical Training" do not. If one has to re-apply for F-1 status after four years, this may cause some alien students in the OPT program to go through a visa-renewal process, including the biometric screening at a USCIS office, which might, in turn, discourage participation in this program. Some of them might not get the requested extension.

As we have suggested earlier, OPT needs to be addressed directly, and either reduced to a manageable size or eliminated completely.

Why should the federal government bribe (via a tax break) employers to hire alien college grads when plenty of citizen and green card grads are available?