Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a controversial aspect of the F-1 foreign student visa. It allows a foreign student to work in the U.S. for one to three years after graduation, with the longer period being for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.
It should be no surprise that OPT is controversial. As Ron Hira has pointed out, it amounts to claiming that the international student, typically with a master’s degree, still needs a three-year internship. It is also controversial because both its origin and later expansions have come through Executive Branch action, not Congress. A lawsuit against the expansion, based on this point, is still pending (contrary to recent claims in the press that the courts have already upheld the action, which don’t disclose the fact that the one court decision along these lines was later vacated).
Oddly, USCIS has publicly admitted that their reason for extending OPT is that they wish to use the program as an end-run around the “shortage” of H-1B visas. So much for “practical training,” eh?
What is interesting is that, on top of the dubious legal status and demonstrably false rationale for the program, it turns out that apparently the colleges and universities can make their own determination as to what qualifies as STEM.
In other words, OPT has been a sham, right from the start and has been becoming more and more of a sham in recent years. But where is the outrage? With occasional exceptions, critics of H-1B just don’t mention OPT.
Sadly — may I say tragically? — this lack of outrage is due to those same critics buying into the Intels Good, Infosyses Bad myth. IGIB holds that use of the H-1B program by outsourcing firms such as Infosys is abusive, while it is quite fine and salutatory for the Intels — both the big household name tech firms, and the myriad small tech firms — to hire foreign students and sponsor them for H-1B.
Because of the IGIB myth, H.R. 170 by Rep. Darrell Issa is moving right along, having been marked up by the House Immigration Committee earlier this week. I will post a full analysis here when I have time, but suffice it to say that this is a Feel Good bill that actually make things worse for American tech workers, not better. The issue is NOT that it is only a partial solution to the H-1B problem; I contend that it will make things worse. To those of you who are activist on the H-1B issue: If you see an organization interested in H-1B claim that H.R. 170 is worthwhile, call them out on it.
As long as Congress believes in IGIB — and importantly, as long as critics of H-1B believe in it — forward progress, even limited, in reforming H-1B and related visas will be absolutely impossible.