Welcome, Honored Guests

Immigrants — or even would-be immigrants — are often portrayed these days as glorious, deserving of special treatment. This came up recently, for instance, in an NPR report on the City of Baltimore’s efforts to clamp down on the plethora of liquor stores in impoverished districts. The lawyer representing the store owners argued against the proposal, on the grounds that the owners are immigrants, which in the lawyer’s view somehow makes it OK.

As one who has lived in immigrant households and communities all his life, I am rather pleased by all this positive attention. But it’s gone way too far, resulting in absurd statements like the one made by the attorney above.

Nowhere is this glorification of immigrants more intense than for foreign students studying STEM at U.S. universities, who the government fervently hopes will become immigants. We saw that today, with Donald Trump’s sudden switch on the skilled-immigration issue, clarifying that he thinks we should make all-out efforts to attract and retain those students.

So Trump’s claimed sympathy for the middle class has proved hollow. But Trump is hardly alone in his view; on the contrary, it’s thoroughly mainstream in DC. (Which dramatizes the point that under a President Trump, it would be “business as usual” in terms of foreign tech workers.) This is why, for instance, both the (George W.) Bush and Obama administrations have been so anxious to expand the OPT program, giving foreign students temporary work rights after graduation. More on this below, but the point is that it is considered a “must” in DC that we grab these students.

I’ve written in a previous blog:

Moreover, what is more disturbing is that many in DC see the green card programs as a way to “steal” STEM workers from China. I had heard rumors of this for years, but still was taken aback when they were confirmed at a talk at Georgetown University I gave a few years ago on the quality of the foreign STEM students in the U.S. An attendee came up to me afterward, and turned out to be a young green card case adjudicator at USCIS. He said something close to this: “I don’t see what the fuss is about. My understanding is that our mission is to grab STEM students away from China. The quality doesn’t matter.”

This attitude is silly, as only a small portion of STEM students in China are coming here, but it certainly illustrates the thinking prevalent in our nation’s capital. Pres. Obama has stated repeatedly that a priority is to retain the foreign students.

Accordingly, the administration is not going to take its recent legal setback on OPT lying down, nor will its allies in the tech industry, immigration attorney community and so on. The court found that the DHS had not gone far enough to vet with the public its 2008 extension of OPT from 12 to 29 months. The court gave DHS until February 2016 to properly collect public comment. I predicted that the interest groups supporting the extension would flood the DHS on its public comment site, and sure enough, a petition to retain the extension has gathered 50,000 signatures in just a few days. Those opposed to the extension could be rather numerous too, but they are unorganized and many fear blacklisting by employers.

In other words, DHS will have no problem justifying the extension, citing “popular demand.” Of course, most of the signatures will likely be the foreign students themselves, who have always been easily mobilized for issues like this, but this won’t matter to DHS.

So, the images conjured up of tens of thousands of OPT students suddenly dragged out of their U.S. jobs and shipped home make for good press, but this just ain’t going to happen. The government will do anything to keep them here, and it will have plenty of powerful allies in that.

John Miano, the programmer turned savvy lawyer who is leading the court battle to overturn the OPT extension, notes that even with tens of thousands of people imploring DHS to retain the extension, it may not be so easy for DHS to comply with the court’s decision. I’m rooting for Miano, but you can bet that DHS will treat this as a “must win” situation, and will go to herculean efforts to thwart Miano. Once again, it will at least make for good theater.

Personally, I’ve always believed that legislation — in this case quasi-legislation (a court decision) overturning other quasi-legislation (DHS actions that usurped Congress’ right to make the laws) — should grandfather existing beneficiaries. But OPT should be returned to its original 12-month duration, and absolutely should not be extended to 6 years, as currently proposed by the Obama people.

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8 thoughts on “Welcome, Honored Guests

  1. Where else would foreign nationals be allowed to influence the laws and policies of the country in which they are guests. In all instances in which I have been approached to sign a petition to a governmental entity, I was required to be a registered voter in that jurisdiction of the petition. Why should foreign students have any say in the regulations governing either F-1 in general or OPT/CPT in particular.

    Allowing a 6 year OPT – remember there is neither a wage requirement nor the payment of FICA taxes by either the worker or the employer – is detrimental to all US students. All students and parents need to be made aware of how the OPT program disadvantages US college graduates.

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  2. Dr. Matloff, You’re being generous by giving politicians credit for believing that keeping foreign graduates in the USA keeps knowledge here in the USA instead of losing it to their home countries.

    If they truly believe this (it may be), then they are in Donald Trump’s words, “Stupid politicians!” We have many cases of knowledge, data and even classified information going back to their home countries.

    I’m more cynical in my thinking. I believe that all of them from Obama on down through Congress are just plain corrupt. They take in money and support in other forms, while giving a portion of US corporations the cheap, young labor they demand.

    I would love to see one of the media ask the hard question outright in public to each of the politicians supporting H1B, “Are you stupid or are you corrupt?”

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  3. Dr. Matloff, my question has to do with the capacity of our universities to churn out STEM graduates. If we can graduate far more than we can employ then isn’t that an inefficiency of our educational system?

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  4. just happened to see Santorum remarks today (8/20) at National Press club. Very interesting:
    On H1 B Visa’s:

    1) Mentioned the Disney and South CA Edison situations.
    2) Called for reform of H1-B Visa so only the highest/first tier are allowed
    3) Mentioned that Ted Cruz agrees with Hatch bill to increase H1-B by six fold
    4) Unfortunately didn’t see a single question on his H1-B reforms from the “media” in attendance.

    Think Santorum closest to Sen. Sessions positions on H1B.
    Maybe you can post this C-SPAN link of his remarks on your site:

    http://www.c-span.org/video/?327693-1/former-senator-rick-santorum-rpa-immigration-policy-address

    Thanks,

    GF Reilly
    (Super Conservative Republican; 25 year+ independent contractor in SF Bay area/Silicon Valley and long time fan of your web site and postings).

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    • Scott Walker recently stated that his stance on immigration is similar to that of Trump, and if I recall correctly, has expressed concern about H-1B in the recent past. Hopefully this will force the other candidates, in both parties, to face the question. (Though not, as you point out, if the press doesn’t bring it up.)

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