Law360 Joins the Silence on Employer Subsidies in the OPT Program

By David North on December 3, 2019

Law360 is usually a reliable news organization, but last week it joined a general media failure: In a long article about the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program (mostly behind a paywall), it somehow could not get around to saying that this program for alien alumni of U.S. colleges includes a $2 billion or so a year subsidy from America's ailing and elderly.

A central feature of OPT — described by Law360 as a "visa extension" — is the totally artificial definition of the alien alumni as "students", while citizen (and green-card) alumni of the same institutions are regarded as ordinary workers. With this definition in place, the aliens and, significantly, their employers, are excused from the normal payroll taxes that most of us have paid all our lives; the citizen alumni and their employers get no such tax break.

Thus it is estimated that at least $2 billion a year is lost by the Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment insurance trust funds. It rewards employers who choose alien college grads over citizen ones.

Instead of a straightforward discussion of the subsidy program — the subject of a long-running federal court case brought by our colleague John Miano — the Law360 article talked about alleged shortages of high-tech workers within the U.S. workforce. The Law360 article avoided mentioning that OPT is America's second-largest foreign worker program (after H-1B) and works without a shred of labor standards.

We have previously noted that the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have covered the OPT subsidies in the same way, by not mentioning them.

There is no direct congressional authorization for the program. It was created by the Bush II administration, expanded by the Obama administration, and, so far, has been protected by the Trump administration. It gives one full year of payroll tax breaks to all alien grads, and three years of them to alien alumni who can claim a degree in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.