WASHINGTON (May 16, 2011) – U.S.-citizen college seniors who will soon receive degrees in the agricultural sciences just got a dose of bad news from their government.
The Department of Homeland Security has announced that seniors in these fields who are either citizens or permanent residents will now be competing with foreign students on a distinctly uneven field when they seek jobs after graduation.
Their prospective employers will receive a 7.65% bonus if they hire foreign seniors in these fields, rather than American ones, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C. This bias against citizen and legal-resident workers results from a twist in the tax and immigration laws.
This bonus to the employer, over 29 months, could be as much as $9,244, CIS estimates.
Some of the fields where this strange, government-fed bias takes place include: animal science, dairy science, agronomy and crop science, soil science, and forest science. More detail on this policy is at https://cis.org/north/expanded-OPT-stem-list.
These bonuses will also be available to employers hiring new graduates in other fields, such as social psychology, medical information, management science, and business statistics; for the complete list, see http://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/stem-list-2011.pdf. Employers can get the bonus if they hire recent foreign graduates in any of the nearly 300 occupations on the list.
"We have no objection to a job competition, on a level playing field, between U.S. and foreign college grads," explained CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian, "but it is totally unfair for the government to give a substantial bonus – 7.65% for nearly two and a half years – for employers to discriminate against citizen and permanent-resident job applicants."
The mechanism used by DHS to give this bonus to employers is an intricate twist of the immigration law by the department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau, whose activities are usually confined to arrests and investigations. ICE has the power, without consulting Congress, to grant exemptions from Social Security and Medicare taxes to foreign students here on F-1 visas.
While this exemption usually applies to foreign students while in college, ICE has extended it, in these listed occupations, to foreign students for up the first 29 months after they graduate. This would save the employer – assuming 29 months of employment at, say, $50,000 a year – a whopping $9,244 in avoided taxes when compared to hiring a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
"Meanwhile, as Congress debates reducing benefits to citizens, this employer bonus denies to the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds more than $9,000 for each foreign worker hired," Krikorian continued. "It's a strange way to help Americans get jobs and balance the budget."
This is not the first time that ICE has taken this kind of action against the Trust Funds, and in favor of foreign students; a similar ruling, dealing with a shorter list of technical and scientific occupations was issued in 2008. In that ruling the tax breaks for big business and the foreign employees related to a group of occupations in the so-called STEM fields, of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The portion of the F-1 student visa program used in this scheme is called "Optional Practical Training" or OPT.
Krikorian said that the ICE press release on this matter – that did not mention the tax break for business – almost made that enforcement agency sound like a university. It is at http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1105/110512washingtondc2.htm and is headlined:
"The OPT program has nothing to do with 'post-graduate' training and is strictly a jobs-for-aliens program with tax breaks for both the employers and the foreign workers," Krikorian said. "In this case the wolf that wants to take jobs from citizens and legal permanent residents is disguised in a sheepskin."
ICE, in its press release on the subject, speaks of this as a means of fixing our "broken immigration system." It is not that at all, according to Krikorian. Recent alien college graduates with the degrees listed in last week's announcement would be fully capable of obtaining another kind of work visa, the H-1B; the difference is that while H-1B employers and their workers (appropriately) pay full FICA and Medicare taxes, OPT employers do not.