Many of you are aware of the fact that the Optional Practical Training portion of the F-1 foreign student visa is the “sleeper” of the tech foreign worker programs, just as harmful to American workers as the H-1B work visa. Ostensibly a practical supplement for the foreign student to pick up before he/she returns home, it has become an end-run around the H-1B cap, and would play a key role in rendering useless most of the H-1B reforms that have been proposed.
This is especially true in light of the fact that the Obama administration wants to expand OPT, beyond even the expansion previously set by George W. Bush. A judge found that the first expansion had been done improperly, by not putting the matter out for public comment. Now the White House has incorporated its new expansion proposal into a document open for public comment to comply with the judge’s order.
Daniel Costa and Ron Hira have now posted their comments, representing EPI, on the matter. They’ve made available a summary as well, but I urge anyone with a serious interest in H-1B and related issues to read the document in full. It is a tour de force, cogently explaining the (extralegal) history of the program, its impacts so far, and the very serious adverse effects that would occur if it is approved. My hat is off to Daniel and Ron.
However, there is one glaring omission — the relation of OPT to age discrimination. As I’ve often noted, in STEM it is standard to hire young foreign workers instead of older (35+) Americans, because younger workers are cheaper. Making it even easier for employers to hire new-grad (and thus young) foreign students obviously would exacerbate the already-severe problem.
There are other points that should have been included in the EPI document. One is that, even though immobility of the foreign workers comes mainly from green card sponsorship, many foreign workers will be happy to be subservient to the boss merely in the HOPE that the latter will later sponsor the worker for a green card. I’ve mentioned before a quote from Computerworld, February 28, 2005:
Most of the students enrolled in the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s graduate program are foreign nationals. The Newark-based school has so far received 208 applications for admission in computer science master’s degree programs next year, with about 165 of those applications from foreign students, said Stephen Seideman, dean of the school’s college of computing science. The foreign students “will do everything they can to stay here,” he said.
That not only means that foreign students are generally willing to work for lower pay (a green card represents huge nonmonetary compensation for them), but also their resulting “loyalty” to the employer is hugely attractive to the employer. All this puts American workers at even more of a disadvantage in applying for jobs.
Another important point: Once the employer hires an OPT, experience in that job automatically makes the foreign worker more qualified than American applicants a couple of years later, when the employer sponsors the worker for a green card and must show that no qualified Americans could be found for the position.
All in all, a really outstanding writeup. But will DHS listen? Remember, the “public” comment is not restricted to citizens, and there are apparently tens of thousands of comments from foreign students, e.g. whole blocks of comments from those with Chinese names (PRC pinyin spelling).