New ICE Unit Will Track OPT Program Abuse

But media yet again fails to acknowledge subsidies for hiring foreign 'students' over Americans

By David North on January 16, 2021

Suppose there is a federal program that gives employers billions a year to hire foreign college grads, rather than citizen ones. These subsidies of about 8.25 percent of payroll are never given to employers who hire citizen college grads. Do you suppose that the media would notice?

The answer, yet again, is "No." In a recent article, Law360 (like many other media outlets) failed to mention the massive subsidies for employers who hire alien college grads rather than citizen ones in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

While this omission is discouraging, the reason why this matter came up again is encouraging, but about four years late.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has finally announced that it will "establish a new unit to report on the status of the Optional Practical Training program for foreign students to investigate claims of misuse."

The way that the OPT program delivers a subsidy is a sneaky one, never authorized by Congress. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP, administered by ICE) decided to redefine foreign students who had completed their degrees as "students", and neither these "students" nor their employers have to pay payroll taxes. This benefit lasts for one year for all alien alumni, and for an additional two years for alums with a STEM degree (science, technology, engineering, or math).

Payroll taxes are used to aid ailing, aging, and/or unemployed citizens, as they support the Medicare, Social Security, and federal unemployment insurance trust funds, as we have noted previously.

The Law360 story also quotes ICE as saying that an eye-popping 536,000 people "were authorized to participate in OPT" in 2019. Neither the news story, the press release, nor the table ICE cited for that number says anything about how it is defined. I suspect some double counting. We have noted how questions about these definitions have muddied these waters in the past.

This administration has dropped a potential hot potato into the lap of the incoming administration by calling for a report on OPT by July 31, 2021. The Biden administration is challenged to report in some depth on this program, something that the Trump administration never did.

The task for the new unit is described thusly by ICE: "Because this program has grown rapidly and is likely to be significantly more impactful to the labor market than we had originally estimated, it is critical that we collect and report wage and related data with the greatest amount of transparency."

"Transparency" might be so drastic as to acknowledge that employers are paid by the federal government to discriminate in favor of alien, rather than citizen, college grads.