Panel Transcript: Foreign Students and National Security


Press Release

Panel Video

Report: U.S. Foreign Student and Exchange Visitor Policies Undercut National Security

Blog: America's Elderly and Infirm Forced to Reward Corporations that Discriminate Against American College Graduates

Report: DHS Reports Slight Dip in Overstays in 2018

Event Summary

The Center for Immigration Studies hosted a panel discussion on Tuesday, August 20, focusing on the potential national security risk posed by our current policies relating to foreign students and exchange visitors. 

Introduction and Moderator

Mark Krikorian
Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies


Dan Cadman
Center for Immigration Studies

David North
Center for Immigration Studies

Jessica Vaughan
Director of Policy Studies
Center for Immigration Studies

MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

And we’re doing this panel today on the issue of the Foreign Student Program. The admission of foreign students and scholars is a federal government program like any other, farm subsidies or what have you, and yet it’s almost exclusively discussed in positive terms. But in fact, like any other government program, it has benefits but also costs. It has plusses and minuses. And the challenges that come from it, whether they’re related to national security or, you know, other issues, are just never addressed, and so we wanted to have a panel that would try to introduce some balance into this discussion of the Foreign Student Program.

So our first speaker is going to be Dan Cadman. He’s a Center fellow, a veteran of INS and DHS. And he has a report that’s in the – on the table outside, also online, on the national security challenges that foreign student – the Foreign Student Program, you know, potentially poses.

Our second speaker is another fellow from the Center, David North, who has been doing immigration policy longer than anyone else, since the Johnson administration. And I tease him when I say that’s Lyndon Johnson, not Andrew Johnson – (laughter) – but it’s still a long time. And so he’s going to be talking about one of the – one of the sort of permutations of the Foreign Student Program called the Optional Practical Training Program.

And then Jessica Vaughan, our director of policy studies, is going to be giving us some numbers on the scope of this government program, the failures of it, specifically in the sense of overstays – visa overstays, people who were admitted on temporary visas and then just never leave – and then also some – give us some policy recommendations.

And after that we’ll take some Q&A if there is any questions.

So why don’t we start with Dan?

DAN CADMAN: Thank you.

The United States, by virtue of its technological prowess, by virtue of its openness, has always been a beacon to people coming to study. And that brings with it a great deal of good for the United States. There is no doubt that when people come to the U.S. and study here for a significant period of time, a matter of years, they get to know something about our society, our culture. Hopefully, that translates into a positive sense of the U.S. and its peoples. And that bodes well particularly when those individuals go back and become in their own countries leaders, political influence makers. But by the same token, because of the size of the nonimmigrant population in the United States at any one time, it poses unique questions and problems of control.

Foreign students are nonimmigrants; that is to say, temporary visitors. But unlike other temporary nonimmigrants, who may be admitted for 90 days or six months, in point of fact, when a foreign student or a research scholar is admitted to the United States they’re admitted for the duration of their status, which is to say for a period of years until their studies conclude, which might be at the undergraduate or at the graduate and postgraduate levels. What that translates to is that an individual may be here anywhere four, six, or eight years and be operating in, for U.S. society, the most open of environments, which is to say institutions of higher learning.

This can be a good thing, but the reality for government security officers is that it creates, as Mao Zedong once said, a sea in which fishes can swim. And although Mao was speaking about guerillas among the people, it’s equally true that foreign student and exchange scholar populations, by virtue of their size, their diversity, and the openness of the campus environments, act as a perfect place in which people who are engaged in espionage or people who are of malintent can conceal themselves without any real serious possibility that they’re going to be detected, at least not until in the fulness of time. There are just too many people for government officers and government intelligence agents and counterintelligence agents and law enforcement to keep up with. And that basically is the sum and substance of the problem, or at least one dimension of the problem.

The other dimension is that over the course of the past few decades, because of the cost of higher education particularly for people who are paying at the highest levels, which international students are, it becomes very lucrative for universities to fill their campuses with people whose governments are often paying the cost of their tuition and the cost of them living in the United States for that period of time. And the consequence of that is that it has the de facto effect of over the course of time squeezing native-born citizens out of a lot of positions. And this is particularly of concern where STEM – science, technology, engineering, mathematics – subjects are concerned.

It is leading, in a sense, to an atrophying of U.S. native-born graduates in those studies. And the consequence is for industry and government afterward, including the Defense Department, the Energy Department, there is a dearth of people who they can bring on who are in a position to pass government security checks because those aren’t going to be available to foreigners. And this has caused a great deal of concern over the course of some number of years.

Touching on the concerns about espionage, it’s significant that every FBI director going back several decades, when they speak about national security concerns, has addressed the unique problems that they confront with the foreign student population. And that is because they acknowledge that functionally it’s beyond their capacity to monitor and control the number of people who come into the United States to study every year.

And by way of example, every year from 2013 to 2017 there were more than 2 million admissions per year of nonimmigrant students and exchange scholars. Now, it’s important for me to point out that an admission is not the same as a human being because, obviously, a human being could leave temporarily – say on vacation or to go visit family – and then come back. But even if you were to assume that each individual departed and came back at least once, that still means at any point in time a population of foreign students and scholars in the United States exceeding 1 million, and that’s on the low side.

It is without doubt a problem for U.S. security and counterintelligence officers to keep track. And it’s not just the number, but the diversity of the places that these individuals come from because, surprisingly, many of them come from places that are either actively hostile to the United States or are in fierce global competition with the United States for predominance, whether that’s militarily or in trade or technology.

By way of example, the International Institute for Education says that during the 2017-2018 academic year there were 363,341 Chinese students enrolled. And that’s just students; that’s not the exchange scholars. And that probably didn’t include vocational students who may be attending things like pilot school or even maritime schools of various kinds. There were almost 13,000 Iranian students here, 7.5 thousand Pakistani students, 5.5 thousand Russian students, 44,000-plus Saudi Arabian students. There were more than 10,000 Turkish students. There were even 726 Syrian students. And those are just touching the surface. In addition, you have students from Afghanistan, from Cuba, from North Korea.

And an interesting thing when you look at the Department of Homeland Security’s Statistical Yearbook, when you look for the numbers some of them are categorized as “D.” And when you look at “D,” that means “data is withheld to limit disclosure.” Why would the Department of Homeland Security exhibit an interest in withholding information about North Koreans studying in the United States? I find that curious in the extreme – and disturbing, frankly.

You have more than 18,000 Venezuelan students here, and probably a good number of those are opposed to the Maduro regime. But then a good number of them will also be advocates of the Maduro regime because one constant about governments that are particularly authoritarian or are particularly focused on what they want is that they find it in their own interests to seed the foreign student population with people who are sympathetic with their aims.

And a good example, although not the only example of that, is China, because China is very focused on where it wants to go, what it wants to achieve, where it wants to be with its global dominance. And for the Chinese government, espionage is, you might say, a family affair. Everything is geared toward accruing technological advantage. And if that means they can short-circuit the time and money on research by stealing secrets, whether that’s in the defense and military sector or in the trade secrets sector, they’re going to do it.

And not all of the people who come here by any means, of course, engage in espionage, but some do. And not all of them are government security or intelligence officers. Some of them are spies of opportunity. They are inculcated into the idea that it is patriotic for them, if given the chance, to take advantage of things that are open to them. And they are encouraged when the opportunity arises to fit themselves into niches where they’re going to have the opportunity to see those secrets that they can pass back home. And if even only one in 10 or one in a hundred people are doing this, when you have hundreds of thousands of people studying inevitably you’re going to accrue very large benefit from that.

And while I’ve talked about China, even more aggressive in that regard is Iran. And Iran, it would less likely be spies of opportunity. Iran is going to be salting its foreign student population, after it’s thoroughly vetted them, to make sure that their beliefs and interests coincide with that of the theocracy of the Islamic Republic. That is where I think the difficulty lies.

It’s compounded by the fact that in recent years, in truth, the Department of Homeland Security and even its predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, walked away from any kind of meaningful enforcement and control of the student population or of the university systems that host these individuals. In theory, the federal government holds in its hand the ability to withhold or withdraw from an institution of learning the right to host foreign students. In practice, that almost never happens. And David will speak to that I’m sure, can speak to that very effectively. But the point is that unless and until something is done, this unfettered situation that we find ourselves in will remain, and that’s untenable.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you.

Now we’ll move to David North, who’s going to talk about a different aspect of it, the Optional Practical Training Program, which is – basically is really – I think is the nation’s largest foreign-worker program, except it pretends to be a student program. So, David?

DAVID NORTH: Welcome to the Press Club.

I have a statement to make, a preliminary statement: I, too, was once a foreign student. I went to New Zealand. I was – I was a Fulbright student in New Zealand at Victoria University College in Wellington. But I came there on a nine-month visa, and I got an extension of two months, and then I came home. And I’m kind of a model foreign student, and not all of them do that.

I also want to make a little footnote to what Dan just said about North Korea and the little “D.” “D” does not stand for “David,” OK? (Laughter.)

JESSICA M. VAUGHAN: It’s for “Dan.”

MR. NORTH: And it’s part of an ancient, ancient – and back in your days at INS – practice of the government: If there’s one or two people, you know, in a grouping, it doesn’t say one or two; it says “D.” So there are not very many folks from North Korea here, and it is one of these puzzling things that you see if you look very carefully on some Department of Homeland Security documents.

I want to talk about the economics of all this. I want to talk about the Optional Practical Training Program, which is none of those things. It’s a program, all right. (Laughter.) And I want to – want to ask you a question.

Suppose there was a federal program, one never authorized by Congress as such, that did the following. It took about $3 billion a year away from America’s elderly and infirm, gave that money to American corporations, including such ultra-prosperous ones as Amazon, which is kind of new money, and JPMorgan, which is old money. That program – suppose there was a program that involved more than a third of a million workers. And the program from the – and the – that program took money from the aging and the sick and it was given to U.S. employers who had decided to hire a foreign college graduate of an American university rather than an American college graduate. Now, supposing there were such a program, wouldn’t there be an outcry? Well, the answer is there is such a program and there is no outcry.

And one of the reasons that there is no outcry is because the press routinely talks about the OPT program, and it has foreign students, and never mentions the subsidy. And the subsidy is the fact that neither the employer – and this is important – nor the OPT student – we’ll get back to that in a minute – is charged for the usual payroll taxes. These are Medicare, the Medicare Trust Fund; even more so the Social Security Trust Fund; and to a very minor extent something called the Federal Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. All that adds up to 8.25 percent of payroll. That’s the subsidy. The employer gets a subsidy. The student – the former student gets a subsidy. And that’s what this program is. It involves a third of a million people, every one of whom is a college grad, every one of them who’s taking a job not just out of the normal competition but taking a subsidized job that would have gone to an American otherwise.

I find that appalling, and it’s a great big secret, and as we will show you, well, a whole series of publications and scholarly organizations and even an arm of the government itself doesn’t talk about it. We saw quite recently long articles in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, we saw reports from the Pew Charitable Trust, also from an organization – let me find that one – the Niskanen Center, long studies or articles about the OPT program, and they never mention the subsidy. And I think that’s a disgrace, and I’m here to say they should have mentioned it. And we will, and that’s what we’re talking about today.

So the employer is faced with – or can be, in a hypothetical situation – somebody from Argentina and somebody from the United States, and they both have the same degree and they’re both equally available for, say, ($)50(,000), $55,000 a year, whatever, and there’s no difference. And they’re both very bright and attractive folks, but there’s one difference: the Argentinian comes at a discount. The Argentinian comes at a(n) 8.25 percent discount. Over three years if it’s a STEM person – a science, technology, engineering, and math – that’s something like $15,000 the employer gets if he hires the Argentinian rather than the American.

Now, I think that in many cases this is something that the corporations are aware of. They’re not all aware of this, but some of – most of them are aware of it and take advantage of it. And it’s not an even playing field. I mean, the American is saying you got to pay me 100 percent, and the Argentinian or the other alien is saying you got to pay me 92 percent. What do you suppose a rational employer does if he knows about this? Well, in many, many cases – a third of a million cases – they hire the – they hire the foreign grad. It’s not a student. It’s an alumnus.

Now, the mechanism for this and the program, OPT, was created during the Bush II administration, was expanded a little bit by the Obama administration, and has been preserved so far by the Trump administration. But the mechanism is this: the Bush people couldn’t figure out how to make those alumni available to work in the United States as foreign alumni – they couldn’t do that with alumni, so they cast a magic spell over this large population and said thou art still a student. And so during the first year everybody – all these grads – have one year of subsidized employment. And if you happen to be – as many, many, many foreign students are – have specialized in the STEM fields, then you get three years of subsidized employment.

So that’s the OPT program and that’s the problem with it. It takes millions and billions of dollars away from the trust funds, which are kind of running down and need all the help that they can get, and simultaneously they deny about a third of a million Americans a job. Now, they may – many of those – that third of a million may scramble and find something else. But my point is you shouldn’t take money from America’s elderly, give it to fat-cat corporations so that they can discriminate against Americans. I don’t think that’s a very good idea. And that’s all.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, David.

I just want to point out I was a foreign student too, two years in the Soviet Union, and I decided not to stay. (Laughter.)


MR. KRIKORIAN: (Laughs.) Jessica?

MS. VAUGHAN: I, too, was a foreign student, in Germany, in graduate school, sponsored by the German government.

Good morning and thanks for being here. We’ve heard from Dan about the national security risks that are inherent in a very open program of admitting foreign students in very large numbers, and we’ve heard from David about the pipeline of additional workers that is opened up by the existence of – by all of these foreign students together with the OPT program.

What I want to focus on this morning is the fact that the student visa program has the highest rate of overstaying of other programs – other visa programs. In other words, those who come here on student visas are more likely not to go home, are more likely to violate the terms of their visa and stay on illegally. So this is contributing to our illegal immigration problem. And I’m going to talk about how many, who is the law enforced against, and why, and give you some recommendations at the conclusion.

And when we talk about student and exchange overstays, this refers to people who come on an – what’s known as an F visa, student – basic student visa, which can be for college or graduate school, but also can be for high school or really any public elementary or secondary education, just any school. We also have what’s known as the M visa, which is for vocational institutes, including things like flight schools but also beauty schools and acting schools and dog grooming schools and the like. (Laughter.) And another program or set of programs, really, that many aren’t aware of, which is the J visas for exchange visitors, most of whom are actually working in the country, some of whom are engaging in academic exchanges such as the Fulbright Program but the vast majority of whom of these more than 300,000 people coming in each year are working. This is au pairs, camp counselors, lifeguards, teachers, postdocs, doctors, all sorts of occupations that people are working in under the guise of an exchange program.

So the Department of Homeland Security several years ago began publishing the data that it has collected from an entry-exit tracking system that’s been developed, and we know how many people – or at least we have an estimate of how many people – are not leaving at the expiration of their visas. And in 2018, it was about 670,000 people did not depart at the time that their visa expired, so this is an enormous number of people who are not complying with the terms of their visas. Sixty-nine thousand people who had entered on student or exchange visas in 2018 did not depart at the conclusion of their visa. Now, those numbers are reduced over time. About a year after this – the period of time covered by the Department of Homeland Security’s report, a significant number of those people had either left the overstay population or adjusted to another status.

And if you refer to the handouts, the second page of the handout has a chart that’s taken from a report I did on the DHS overstay report, and you can see the numbers in various categories. It’s called “Overstays 2015 to 2018.” Those numbers do decline over time, as I mentioned, but we don’t know why some of those people drop off the suspected overstay list, whether it was because they left on their own, adjusted status, or transitioned into Optional Practical Training or some other status, or maybe applied for an immigrant visa. So you can see, again, that student and exchange visitors are the least compliant of all of our temporary visa admissions.

The next page there, or actually maybe your first page – because I think these are a little out of order – there’s a table that shows the worst – the countries with the worst numbers of people staying over and the worst rates of compliance, because it’s important to talk about both of these. Some countries, like China, India, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and South Korea, have on paper better rates of compliance, but because we admit so many students from those countries even a small percentage of people who overstay translates into a very large number of visa violators, and in the case of China leads the list with, in 2018, almost 13,000 people overstayed their visa that year in the student and exchange visitor category.

Other countries are a problem because of the extremely poor compliance rates. And we don’t issue a lot of visas in these countries, but it’s a problem because we have countries like, for example, Eritrea, where more than half of the people who got a student or exchange visa don’t go home. And it’s 40 people, but it’s still you have to ask yourself why are we issuing so many visas in a country where more than half the people are not going to comply?

And some of these countries are countries of concern because of national security considerations, the fact that they don’t have robust identification programs, and for that reason show up – some of these are travel-ban countries that are on this list. So those are the reasons that this is important.

I should also add that that list of countries with the highest overstay numbers, those five countries, represent 44 percent of all visa overstayers. So we’ve got a double problem here.

The other thing is, is that some of these countries on this list are what are known as recalcitrant countries who do not accept their citizens back for deportation if we were to actually locate and arrest and try to remove them. ICE is sometimes stymied by these countries because they don’t accept them back. So all of these are – raise questions as to why we continue to issue visas in such large numbers in many of these countries.

What I’ve also noticed by looking at the trends in the overstay report – and we’ve got now three good years of data on student and exchange visitors – is that sometimes you can see that even when the number of visas that we’re issuing has been reduced, the overstay rates are still very high. So it helps to reduce the number of visas that are being issued because it keeps the overstay numbers down, but they’re still a bad bet for a visa because they’re still staying over in very high rates. And that means we need to think about something other than just issuing fewer visas if we’re going to get a hold of the overstay problem. And that would be stronger enforcement of the laws that we have against overstay.

I also prepared a chart that meshes Dan’s list from his report of the countries of concern who are getting large numbers of student visas with the overstay rates. And again, we can see very large numbers from countries of concern for espionage like China and Iran, and countries of national security concern like Saudi Arabia for example, for also quite a few countries with double-digit noncompliance rates like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and so on.

Why are students in particular a concern for us, because the numbers are small relative to some other visa categories like regular temporary visa holders? And these are not the highest numbers. Student visa overstays represent about 5 percent of the entire overstay population. Well, as Dan mentioned, part of the reason is because they’re admitted for a long period of time and with relatively little supervision.

The other reason this is important is because coming on a student visa is a good pretext for a young person to gain admission to the United States. Because of our visa laws, most of the young people who are getting student visas would not qualify for a temporary visa on their own because of the fact that they’re young, maybe not in stable employment, considered a high risk for overstaying. But if they can get a college, community college, or vocational school, or exchange program to accept them as participants or enroll them as students, it’s not that difficult to get a student visa.

And of course, there are the known associations of this program with terror. A number of the 9/11 terrorists were foreign students, and others. The known association with espionage.

But also because of this, the fact that it’s a good way for someone who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a visa to get into the country, there are numerous fraud schemes that have arisen in connection with student and exchange visas. David has documented very well the large number of, shall we say, non-rigorous programs that exist in the country that admit people, which are basically diploma mills, quite honestly, that are given the authorization by ICE and the Department of Homeland Security to accept foreign students. We have – there was, in fact, recently a sting in Detroit with a bogus school that HSI had – ICE’s HSI had set up, and they – there were hundreds of foreign students who participated in that. There are problems with – and particularly with Chinese nationals – facilitators who develop schemes to – which involve – they’re very complex, involve getting imposters to take entrance exams in China, false passports issued to facilitate the entry of people who wouldn’t qualify for a student visa otherwise who get into the country. Again, hundreds of thousands. David has estimated in his report that there may be as many as 40,000 individuals who’ve gotten into the United States through a fraudulent or bogus student visa program, and then have access to the Optional Practical Training Program, and so on, and just disappear into the woodwork.

And this – so this contributes to illegal immigration. And we – our government has developed a way to track which students do not maintain status in their university, which may not have rigorous academic programs. And so we do know that a lot of this goes on, and yet ICE devotes very little of its resources to enforcing the law against programs like this. Very explicitly, ICE has said that its overstay enforcement is limited to those students that are considered to be a national security or public safety threat. Everyone else is pretty much ignored.

The chance – I recently had a FOIA request of the last five years of ICE’s deportation records, in which one of the bits of information that I asked for was the immigration status of individuals being deported. And what I found was that in 2018, for example, ICE removed 170 individuals whose status was a student or exchange visitor, which is a tiny number out of the huge population of a million foreign students. I calculate it’s about four-tenths of 1 percent of student visitors who go out of status, who overstay, face any threat of enforcement. That’s minuscule. And I would argue that such a low rate of removals is not just not a deterrent, but that’s an actual incentive for people to try to gain admission for – as a foreign student to get here because they know that there is very little chance of enforcement.

And again, I’ve put some charts in your packets that talk about, well, who is ICE going after? Of these – you know, in the last three years, 414 individuals identified as students who were removed from the United States. The largest number from Saudi Arabia, some also from China, Kenya, India, Nigeria, Jordan, and a scattering of other countries. It’s not – this kind of enforcement is not actually happening in the ICE field offices that are traditionally known for the highest numbers of deportations, like in California and Texas. Most of them, interestingly, were from the Seattle field office, also a lot in Detroit, Chicago, Miami, and other places.

And I believe this is because of ICE’s hyper-focus on national security and public safety threats. I was able to see in the data the reasons – like, the program of arrests; in other words, what type of removal cases these individuals were. And about half of them apparently came from referrals from the SEVIS program, which is our tracking system for foreign students. Only about a fifth of them were criminals. Four of them were referrals from Joint Terrorism Task Force investigations. A lot of the rest came from border inspections. And some people might look at that and say, oh, well, four – there were only four who were terrorist threats. I look at that and say, you know, yikes, there were four who were – (laughs) – who potentially were terrorists.

This level of enforcement is not helping us maintain the integrity of our immigration system, and it’s creating an extremely large haystack for counterterrorism officials. And to address this, ICE really needs to take a much broader approach to enforcing overstays and noncompliance with visas beyond national security and public safety concerns. We gather all this information on the number and who has overstayed. They need to start using it for more routine compliance. Of course you want to focus on the fraud schemes and the national security threats, but there’s room in ICE’s resources to go beyond that and start being – actually calling people in to talk who have not overstayed. And Congress needs to help, also, by giving the government some more tools to use, such as sanctions for the schools and the employers and the exchange program sponsors that are offering participation to these individuals.

And I’ll leave it at that. We have – I have a page of recommendations in your packets. But this needs to happen. The way ICE does overstay enforcement, it ignores most people and goes after a small handful. If it were to broaden its approach, not only would it catch people who were just routine overstayers, but we know from experience you also end up catching a lot of people who are a threat that you just didn’t know about. And this is critically important going forward to our immigration system. Thanks.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Jessica.

I had a couple questions. Since I’m paying for the microphone, I’ll go first.

First, I guess for anybody but maybe for Dan specifically, is – you know, is there really an argument for just not admitting foreign students from, say, China or Iran altogether?

MR. CADMAN: You know, I read in the media – I don’t know it personally, but I read in the media that that was put forward at one point in time and that it didn’t go very far, and I think that that would be an impossible political sell.

And I know that Senator Tom Cotton put forward a bill that’s going no place that basically said anyone who has any connection with the People’s Liberation Army in China would be blocked from a visa. And that’s great. That’s a good start. But I would argue that you’re not always going to know who has any kind of relationship with the PLA. But there has got to be something between those two, where you’re limiting it to the PLA on the one hand and blocking everybody on the other. And perhaps sometimes the way that you get at it is, as Jessica said, you don’t always just focus on someone after they’ve been revealed to be involved in espionage or terror. If you have a decent compliance program, you start putting the fear of God into people who might otherwise be occasional opportunists and be thinking about engaging in theft of intellectual property or secrets or whatever.

And the other is that if the United States government is the one giving these schools the right to bring foreign students into the country, you know, put the hammer down and say we are going to withdraw your right to bring in foreign students because you haven’t exercised it properly. And if that is done, that is a powerful weapon, and there will be political repercussions. Imagine doing that with a prestigious university. But if it’s not done, then the status quo remains, and that is completely unacceptable.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Essentially suspending their driver’s license is what that amounts to, which – (laughter) –

MS. VAUGHAN: Well, it’s the same approach as we take with worksite enforcement where, you know, you may get banged for a paperwork violation – like if it’s a school that’s, you know, just not keeping track of students, or there are also the schools whose business model is just to, you know, issue I-20s so the people can come as foreign students, and have a – you know, maybe we find some. But I do think we need to look at removing their – revoking their authority to issue I-20s or shutting down their ability to, for instance, operate an exchange program.

MR. KRIKORIAN: My other question was for David. And because the Optional Practical Training Program – supposedly the student visa program is probably, if – I mean, I’m not sure the numbers are right, but I think is the largest foreign-worker program we have, are there any Labor Department assessments of prevailing wages, any of that sort of thing that we have in the other foreign-worker programs? As, you know, nominal and ineffective as that might be, the OPT program doesn’t really have any of that, does it?

MR. NORTH: No, it does not. It also has an advantage over some of the other foreign-worker programs in that the OPT alumni can move around the labor market without worrying about losing their visa. Now, if you’re an H-1B worker, the workers who are typically college graduates, you are tied to an employer, and maybe if you handle the paperwork correctly you can move from one employer to another. But it’s awkward, and the employer can always say, hey, if you don’t behave I’m not going to renew your visa, and then you’ll have to go back to wherever you came from. There is no such power in the OPT program.

Now, as far as the numbers are concerned, in one sense the OPT program is probably the largest in terms of newcomers in a given year. The H-1B program is larger in terms of people with that status who are in this country.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Because it’s good for a longer number of years.

MR. NORTH: Longer, for a number of years, and can be extended.


MR. NORTH: So I hope that answers your question.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you.

Any questions? Wait for the microphone.

Q: Couple of dozen here, but – (laughs) – I will limit myself. I’m Peggy Orchowski and I’m the congressional correspondent for Hispanic Outlook. And I’ve written a lot about foreign students as an impediment to Latinos, especially going into the STEM fields. The competition is – well, I’ll tell you more about it later.

But I have a couple of questions about OPT. What visas do they have? And – what visa do they have? Is it an extension of the F –


MR. NORTH: Yeah.

Q: – or is a special visa? And is it marked? Do the employers know they’re on an OPT? And what kind of time limit is there?

And there’s several other questions I have, but I’m also wondering if you guys have studied how many DREAMers and DACA were former – came in as foreign students, especially in – you know, in the elementary schools? I have interviewed DACA/DREAMers who came in as foreign students. It’s an incredible incentive to overstay the visa, apply for DREAMer status, and now that (Schumer ?) has increased the DREAMer qualifications to 18 that we’re going to probably see more of this. And of course, you know, they lie. How do you answer the question that this is the best and the brightest in the world, where I think there’s some argument that they’re some – especially from China a lot of the students are the richest in the world, but maybe not the best and brightest? Many of them couldn’t get into schools in their home countries.

MR. NORTH: Let me answer two of your questions, if I may. The overlap between DACA and – that’s the Deferred Admission for Childhood Arrivals –


MR. NORTH: Deferred Action. Thank you. Exactly. That’s largely a program that deals with people from Mexico and to some extent Central America. The OPT people are largely from China and India and elsewhere. There isn’t much of an overlap between those two programs.

Q: I hear there’s –

MR. NORTH: I mean, I’m sure there are some.

Q: – I mean, 30 percent Asians.


Q: I understand there’s a huge increase in DACA, that almost 30 percent are Asians and many of them were former students.

MR. NORTH: I can’t respond to that. I know that the majority is from Mexico.

So there – so we’re dealing with kind of two different – two different populations. The two overlap to some extent. Now, people on OPT are either typically or always have visas, to answer that question.

Q: And it’s an extension of that? Is it more?

MR. NORTH: It’s an extension of the stay. It’s an extension of the stay that they secure for one or three years.

Q: One to three years.

MR. NORTH: Yeah.

MR. KRIKORIAN: And for purposes of the employer, they have an employment authorization document, a work permit.


MR. NORTH: They do.

MR. KRIKORIAN: And that’s what they present as their authority to work.

MR. NORTH: Right, right. Yes.

Q: The employer knows it’s not an H-1B, though. What do they think it is?

MR. KRIKORIAN: What do they care? It says they’re authorized to work.

MR. NORTH: They’re – yeah.

Q: They’re looking at the discount, of course, so they – yeah.

MR. NORTH: Yeah. No, they know. They know. And as a matter of fact, I’ve talked to a guy who was – had been in – had been here as an OPT trainee and then had been here OPT alumni, and subsequently got to be an H-1B, and he said, “My wages dropped.” (Laughter.) Because he was suddenly paying payroll taxes, which you do in the H-1B program and you do not in the OPT program.

Now, I’ve said enough. Mark?

MR. KRIKORIAN: OK. Well, thanks.


MS. VAUGHAN: I would like – on this issue raised of people coming to attend public high schools or public middle and elementary schools, I don’t know the numbers on that. But I do think now that the government is collecting data on who is overstaying, where they came from, what category of visa, they should be able to do some empirical analysis on, you know, any schools in particular that may be a problem. But it’s an opportunity for us to step back and say, why are we admitting people to attend public high schools here? And why is the number-one vocational school listed by ICE on accepting foreign students called something like the Bethel Institute for Healing Spirituality? (Laughter.) And you know, why are we giving out student visas for people to attend community colleges and vocational programs? It’s one thing if there does not exist that sort of education in their home countries, you can maybe make a case for it. But I don’t think that kind of evaluation has been done on our programs, and needs to be rethought.

MR. KRIKORIAN: And that’s kind of part of the point of this effort, is that nobody’s really given much thought to the Foreign Student Program at all. I mean, it’s just – it’s sort of been run –

MS. VAUGHAN: It’s a sacred cow.

MR. KRIKORIAN: It’s been run by the stakeholders, in effect, and just goes on automatic pilot.

One more question. Yeah, go ahead.

Q: I’ve tried to get some grants.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, here, get the mic so that – here.

Q: I’ve tried to get some investigative grants and I just go nowhere. They are not interested. They’re the most untouchable of all immigrants.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, right.

Q: The one – the one argument that kind of gets the liberals, if you want to say it, vast numbers of foreign students, unlimited number of foreign students does keep the tuition high. That enables the tuition to remain high, which is more and more a threat to middle-class American students. So that’s the one argument where they might see it’s a threat.

MR. KRIKORIAN: And I mean, it has to crowd out some American students. I mean, there’s not an infinite number –

Q: That’s right.

MR. KRIKORIAN: – of seats in any university, so there’s literally no way it couldn’t crowd out people. And so anyway, that’s kind of the point, is that there’s benefits to it but there’s also costs. And nobody – and it’s though it’s a pure good and that there’s no downside, and that just – it’s just not true.

MR. CADMAN: My sense – my strong belief – and this is based on some exposure to and involvement with the Student Exchange Visitor Program not that long ago, but after I had left government myself and was working as a contractor, a Beltway bandit – is that the SEVP has been coopted. They have been coopted by academia. They act as an outreach into ICE rather than as an arm of ICE into academia. And the problem is, at least to people like us, very, very evident by the numbers of diploma mills, by the number of overstays, by the crowding out of native-born people seeking to gain STEM degrees. I mean, all of the indicia are there.

And when you have serially FBI directors speaking out about it, when you have report after report coming out of the Defense Department and other places speaking to the multiple issues and concerns ranging from espionage to terror to just atrophy of our own ability to create and maintain a pool of STEM graduates, you know, it would be like giving away all of your corn every year, and then your seed corn, and then you turn to the country that has taken it all because you have to start using their corn product because you gave it all away. That’s what we are doing with STEM. We are giving other countries our intellectual capacity by withering away the ability to bring people into these, you know, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs, and then inculcating them into industry or the government.

MR. KRIKORIAN: And just to repeat for people, SEVP is the arm within ICE that actually regulates this whole foreign student program, and yet essentially – I mean, what they call this is regulatory capture. The people being regulated by the government agency are the ones who are essentially running the government agency that regulates them.

Was there another –

MS. VAUGHAN: And ironically, it was set up after 9/11 so that we could keep track of foreign students who might be a threat. (Laughs.)

MR. KRIKORIAN: Was there another question?

Q: Yeah. I have a big-picture kind of question. The notion of foreign students is partly, look, people come to America and they’ll, you know, have an experience in the United States that will make them better predisposed and help them understand us. But doesn’t the reverse happen, for a very obvious reason? Look, just take someone like Sayyid Qutb, who’s one of the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He spent time in the United States in the ’40s and ’50s and he seethed with hatred, maybe partly as a result of his visit here. Or we all know of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of 9/11. He has a degree from a state school in North Carolina, and it’s pretty clear that his experience in the United States radicalized him. There’s some evidence that at various points maybe a quarter, a third, or half of the people held at Guantanamo had been former foreign students in the United States. That’s how we were able to identify them as risks and put them there.

So maybe these people did something at American universities that maybe American students might not do as much: They actually listen to their professors. (Laughter.) And that is that they – it’s not a place – American universities, let’s put it this way, is not a place where you’d learn sort of positive aspects of American society and culture. You might tend to get the more harsh critiques, shall we say, of American society, and these students might be internalizing that. In other words, maybe the foreign student program is not a very good idea if we want people to like us because we’re putting them in a place where a very large fraction of the people who run it don’t like the United States very much.

MR. KRIKORIAN: And frankly, this was the case even before the current, you know, sort of takeover of America hatred in the universities. I mean, Sayyid Qutb was here in the, what, was it the ’30s or something –

Q: Yeah, I think 1940s.

MR. KRIKORIAN: ’40s. He went to – there’s this really evocative scene where he wrote about a barn dance in Greeley, Colorado – a barn dance in the ’40s in Greeley, Colorado – and he was repulsed by the licentious and promiscuous nature of a barn – a church barn dance in Greeley, Colorado. So even before the anti-Americanism that now is basically prevalent in all universities happened, that had that effect to some degree. In fact, I was a foreign student in the Soviet Union and the Third World students I knew – non-Armenian; I was Armenian – in Armenia, but there were non-Armenian students from the Third World, they all looked around after a couple days and said, my God, socialism is a disaster. This country is a total mess. So in a sense maybe we should be paying foreign students to go study in enemy countries of ours as a way of promoting pro-Americanism.

But anyway, if anybody else has any thoughts on that.

MR. CADMAN: Well, I think –

MS. VAUGHAN: For American students, I mean, our exchange programs are not – many of them are not really exchange programs in the sense that a lot of Americans go abroad to work as lifeguards, au pairs, or teachers. They really are very much one-way money-making operations for these organizations that have names like, you know, promoting world peace and stuff like that.

Go ahead, Dan.

MR. CADMAN: I was just going to say that, you know, you’re touching on culture shock; you know, whether where you’re coming from is so fundamentally different that when you get here you cannot help but be repulsed because everything that you have been brought up to believe is violated by the way we live. It takes a real breakthrough for someone not to ultimately become repulsed by that. Or if you – as has happened with some terrorists, if you fall into it and you become licentious, after a while you begin to hate yourself and you react even more. Just as some former smokers become hell on wheels with people who still smoke, that happens with them.

But how can you predict that in advance? I mean, I’m not sure that you just shut the door on everyone from, you know, Saudi Arabia or, frankly, even Qatar just because there is a strong Wahhab tradition there. I mean, there is some strong argument for some real vetting about people’s cultural attitudes to see if they’re going to be able to adapt. That teeter totters on – probably on the edge of what many people would find unacceptable, but I think it’s a fair question: Can you adapt to what you’re going to see there? And if not, are you going to become a danger to us?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Is there another question? Probably the last one.

Q: I actually have a question. I think I’ve heard all four of you say immigration is good, massive immigration comes with a lot of negatives. How does it apply to the foreign student program? Because we have the work – OPT coming and competing, the numbers are very big, but also on campus you’ve got students who no longer assimilate. I mean, I know of someone who said they were in an engineering class and a Chinese student asked a question in Chinese. The Chinese professor answered it in Chinese. What about all the American students paying tuition sitting there?

I also know of somebody who came over here, went – a Chinese student who came to go to university whose English was quite good. By the time he graduated university, his English was not very good because the numbers are so big they’re not actually even learning about our culture or our students or making friends within the American community.

What do you think about the numbers and decreasing the numbers? How far – how low do you need to go?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, I think part of that issue is not overall numbers – in other words, how many foreign students are in the country – but what percentage of any individual institution, student body are foreign students. So I mean, I think you need to think about should there be a cap overall on the numbers. There isn’t now. It’s unlimited. And should there be a cap on how many – on what share of the students that a particular university admits that we give I-20 forms and allow them to bring in foreign students? Because I think NYU has the largest percentage of foreign students. It’s like over a quarter of the entire student body.

MS. VAUGHAN: Oh, they have the largest number. I don’t –

MR. KRIKORIAN: Or at least of a big school.

MS. VAUGHAN: They have the largest number. I’m not sure if it’s the largest –

MR. KRIKORIAN: Oh, maybe. OK.

Now, there are actually smaller schools. David has written about some of these sort of fly-by-night schools, the visa mills, where almost everybody is a foreign student. Ad that’s just a – you know, that’s just a way of getting a visa or getting a work permit. It has nothing really to do with education or familiarizing themselves with the United States.

We really – we need to wrap up. I think all our speakers here are happy to be accosted afterwards if you would – if you’re so inclined. The reports that everybody’s talked about are on our website at And hope to see you at our next event. Thank you. (Applause.)