Ever Heard of Stratford University? DHS Loves its Foreign Graduates

By David North on August 24, 2011

Have you ever heard of Stratford University? Or the University of Bridgeport?

Well, you should have, because their students are the most numerous and second most numerous in a government subsidy program that is supposed to bring the world's "best and brightest" to our shores.

Stratford is a for-profit entity in Tysons Corner, Va., owned totally by the mysterious American Transportation Institute, Inc., a closely held corporation. The University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, got into the headlines some years ago when it was taken over by an arm of Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

The previously mentioned federal program gives the employers of a certain class of F-1 foreign graduates a subsidy of about $10,000 each if the employers hire these persons, rather than recent grads with the same skills who happen to be citizens or permanent residents (green card holders).

That may be hard to believe – that employers would be paid a bonus for hiring foreign graduates – but it is central to what is called the "Optional Practical Training" (OPT) program as defined by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

It gets a little complicated, but not so complex that Stratford U. and the U. of Bridgeport have not mastered the details.

ICE has the power to define the terms under which F-1 students on temporary visas can hold jobs in the U.S. economy. ICE, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, has decided to expand the traditional OPT program for F-1 graduates. In the past they had been given a chance to work in this country for a year after graduation, supposedly before returning to their home country.

Meanwhile, like all F-1 students, they and their employers are excused from paying the usual payroll taxes that support the Social Security and the Medicare programs. A variation of OPT can also be used before graduation, for summer jobs.

But both the Bush and the Obama Administrations have decided – without asking for congressional approval – to extend that time period from 12 to 29 months for graduates who have degrees, usually undergraduate degrees, in a long list of subjects from Animal Industry to Zoology as I reported in a previous blog.

In many cases this is now a bridge for the individual on his or her way to an H-1B visa, giving that person – and that person's employer – each a cash gift of as much as $10,000, the savings in payroll taxes over the 29-month period. Meanwhile, as noted in another report, there are more than two million U.S. college grads looking for work.

Only recently did I become aware of the dominant position in the OPT program of these two universities. Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau had obtained, through an FOIA request to ICE, the ranking of universities whose students and graduates used the program in FY 2009 and he reported on this late last year in this article. (I am grateful to Prof. Ron Hira of the Rochester Institute of Technology for calling it to my attention.)

Meanwhile, Wikipedia's article on Stratford points out that the university, with 727 participants in the OPT program, not only had the most for any single American university, it had more than twice as many as all eight institutions in the Ivy League combined (341).

Bridgeport is second on the nationwide list of OPT users, with 533 participants. No other institution had more than 320. The since-ICE-raided University of Northern Virginia is 18th on the same list.

My thoughts are that a) both Stratford and Bridgeport have large numbers of foreign students, and b) they have been highly effective in selling the OPT program to employers, probably something that the Ivy League schools have not done, probably because they felt that they had no need to do so.

I doubt that the big technology companies saying they need even more of the "best and brightest" in foreign talent are thinking about Stratford and Bridgeport when they make their statements to Congress. But those big companies are pushing the very policies that allow these undistinguished institutions to expand and, in the case of Stratford, expand its profits.