Obama Wants to Expand OPT for Alien Graduates, Grassley to Rein It In

By David North on June 12, 2015

The president wants to expand and extend the Optional Practical Training Program for recent alien college graduates, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate's Judiciary Committee wants to rein it in.

OPT is one of the multitude of foreign worker programs that usually operate under the radar, with few paying attention to them. While DHS describes these workers as "students", OPT has nothing to do with either students or studying. Instead it allows some foreign graduates of U.S. universities to work after they have graduated for up to 29 months, while simultaneously giving the employers of the OPT aliens bonuses for hiring them rather than resident workers, as we have pointed out earlier.

The administration, according to a Grassley letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, is contemplating an extension of OPT worker authorizations to, under some circumstances, six years, and making it possible for aliens whose most recent degree is in a non-STEM subject, but whose earlier degree was in science, technology, engineering, or math, to be eligible for the program, as they are not now.

Grassley based his statement on a briefing on OPT provided by DHS to the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 28.

Grassley had a 10-point counter proposal, which included a call for better management of the program (which is now largely provided by the alien's last university), a demand that employers of OPT graduates be subject to the E-Verify program (which is aimed at preventing the employment of illegal aliens), requiring a fee from the employers equal to the savings they now obtain by using OPT workers (who are not subject to payroll taxes), and a numerical ceiling for the program.

These proposals and the others are useful steps forward and my only regret is that Grassley did not point out that the current bonus given to the employers for hiring OPTs comes from their escape from FICA and Medicare taxes, thus denying perhaps a billion dollars a year to the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds. This is, of course, a totally needless drain on two major programs for America's growing elderly population.

Grassley's proposal called for the OPT employers to pay a fee equal to their current bonus (the avoidance of the payroll taxes), but does not specify what happens to those fees.