Visa Mill Terminated, but OPT Subsidies to Hire Aliens Persist for Years

By David North on November 13, 2017

"The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." — William Shakespeare

One of the generally unknown elements of the OPT program, which gives employers federal subsidies for hiring alien college grads rather than citizen grads, is that these subsidies can linger for years even after the educational institution that created them has been terminated for malpractice of education.

The full name of the program is misleading: It is the Optional Practical Training program for foreign alumni, but it involves no training and hands out a 7.65 percent (of wages) subsidy or tax break to employers hiring the alien alumni rather than Americans, and to the alumni workers as well. The program has no direct congressional authorization and exists only because the Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, is keeping it alive.

The tax breaks to the aliens and their employers usually last one year, but if the alien has a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) the subsidy goes on for two more years.

The employers using the program, and their OPT-designated alien alumni employees, do not pay the usual payroll taxes, thus depriving the Medicare and Social Security trust funds of badly needed income. Were the employers to hire American college grads, both the former students and their current employers would pay into the trust funds.

That the program still exists relates to the fact that virtually no one who does not profit from it knows about it, and to the fact that the current administration, which one would suspect would not like that sort of thing, is apparently too lightly staffed to do anything about it.

I was reminded of this odd quirk of this odd program by a Facebook entry posted a few days ago. Ankit Shanilal Patel, evidently a one-time student at the American College of Commerce and Technology (ACCT) in Falls Church, Va., wrote, and this is an exact quotation:

"Finally I got my opt stem extension thank you Acct."

Were I his English teacher I might have suggested this revision:

Finally, I received my OPT STEM extension; thank you, ACCT.

His message was entered on October 27, 2017. ACCT was put out of business a few days later by the State of Virginia, as we reported earlier.

Patel must have finished his studies at ACCT about a year ago, because he writes about the STEM extension. This means that he was nearing the end of his first full year of OPT; and thus was in line for two more years of subsidized employment, presumably starting October 27.

At the end of those two years, if he has not secured either a citizen spouse or an H-1B job, you might think he would be obliged to leave the country.

That would be one of his legal options, of course, but there is another not generally recognized path: He can sign up for a master's degree at some other visa mill; switch to another DHS temporary worker program, Curriculum Practical Training; and skip most of his classes while working full time. Then, with his new degree, he can start OPT all over again!

Congress could end this travesty by denying F-1 visas for students at schools that are not accredited by an entity recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or by terminating OPT.

Meanwhile, DHS could limit the problem by taking one or two steps: It could deny OPT subsidies by refusing to extend OPT to non-accredited entities, or it could interpret its own rules to say that a foreign students cannot secure additional work permits (as in OPT) while securing the same level degree a second (or subsequent) time. Or it could do both. Or it could wipe out OPT completely.

None of those things has happened.

Patel has every reason to be grateful to the now-terminated visa mill; he and his employer, assuming that he is paid, say, $60,000 a year for the next two years, will each get a $9,120 subsidy for the two years (a total of $18,240) from Uncle Sam. Neither of these subsidies would be made were he a citizen, a green-card holder, or even an H-1B worker.

What Patel should really do is to send a thank you note to the Trump administration for continuing this program that it inherited from Obama.