Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, has written to the Department of Homeland Security with a series of tough questions about how it handles the Optional Practical Training program (OPT) and how it regulates suspected visa mills.
Visa mills are those marginal educational institutions that provide visas and work permits to foreign students, but little in the way of actual schooling. The work permits under OPT actually give the alien students' employers a major tax break for hiring them instead of comparable citizen and green card students. For an earlier CIS report on the visa mills, and their negative impact on the immigration system, see here.
Letters from senators, particularly from chairmen of major committees, force the departments receiving them to pay attention to the issues raised by the letters. The senator requested that his questions be answered by April 13.
To my knowledge, this is the first time that DHS has been asked by Congress about visa mills and OPT; one hopes that it will stir some interest in DHS about issues long neglected by that agency.
Some of the senator's questions related to ongoing policy issues, such as whether the Optional Practical Training program is, in fact, a training program. Or, as in the letter:
Who determines that CPT [another part of the Optional Practical Training program] or OPT is "directly related" to the student's major area of study, and how is that requirement evaluated?
Many OPT workers are believed to be in restaurant and other jobs that have no connection to their educational programs.
Some of the senator's questions related to specific actions taken (or not taken) by DHS. For example, regarding the long-drawn-out process used by DHS with Herguan University in Sunnyvale, Calif., whose president was arrested, tried, jailed for visa abuse, and released before DHS got around to de-certifying the school:
Herguan University: Why did SEVP [Student and Exchange Visitor Program, a segment of DHS] wait three years before decertifying the school?
This not a casual inquiry; there are 42 detailed questions, the letter is 11 pages long, single-spaced, and contains 48 footnotes, two of which cite articles of mine.
Lots of homework for DHS!