Marginal foreign students, i.e., those who have secured an F-1 visa to work, not to study, impact the U.S. labor markets in different ways, depending on their course of study.
Are they in a general-purpose visa mill, probably nominally seeking a master's degree, or are they, and this is less common, attending an ESL school (ESL being English as a Second Language)?
This distinction was emphasized recently in a conversation with one of my growing group of informants. In her case, she had taught ESL in a marginal institution in Chicago, where all the students were on F-1 visas.
ESL students, because of a wise decision by some past Congress, cannot get work permits through either of the government-subsidized employment programs of curricular practical training (CPT) for students, or optional practical training (OPT) for alumni.
So they work illegally.
Students dealing with academic subjects in the typical visa mills, such as the embattled American College of Commerce and Engineering in Falls Church, Va., have access to the CPT and, later, the OPT programs.
So they work legally, but the federal government is giving their employers a bonus for hiring them rather than American students or alumni; it does so by not imposing payroll taxes on either these workers or their employers.
It is hard to tell which arrangement is worse for the nation. In both the cases of cash wages and OPT wages, the trust funds for our elderly (Medicare and Social Security) are robbed of contributions.
Given the latent political power of older Americans (we are more likely to vote than younger citizens) it would be helpful if every time there is a discussion of cash wages that there be a line thrown in noting that the payment of cash ages always hurts our elderly.
Back to the question of which practice is more damaging to the nation: I suspect that the answer is cash wages, as OPT wages are probably more likely to lead to some payment of state and federal income taxes than cash wages.
Both practices, of course, should be halted. In the least, the government should take greater care in passing out F-1 visas, and in regulating the thousands of educational institutions that can, in fact, initiate the admission of one or more foreign students.