When employed, Americans contribute to social security and in turn, their employers contribute to “unemployment” benefits when jobs are terminated. The same can not be said of OPT (Optional Practical Training) workers.
OPT visas are available to foreign workers with F-1 student visa status after just three months of attending a U.S. university. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security extended OPT visas to allow for an additional 17 month extension for students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors, allowing foreign students to work for three years in the U.S. through OPT.
The belief that “OPT provides a relief valve for employers who can’t find enough workers” is in actuality a myth–a story, a fable, that those who benefit from cheap, pliable labor want you to believe is true. The reality is, today, more than 50 million Americans between the ages of 18 – 54 remain unemployed.
Conversely, the OPT program, according to the PEW Research Institute has grown more than 400% from 2008 to 2016, with OPT approvals outnumbering H1B approvals for giving non-U.S. citizens legal options to work in the U.S.
OPT is popular to both foreign students and their U.S. employers. International students attending American universities often pay full tuition that is frequently reimbursed by their home country’s government. This is the case for the majority of students studying in the U.S. from China and Saudi Arabia. American citizens and their children are at a disadvantage when the limited number of STEM educational slots in U.S. higher education are taken by foreign students, especially in the instances of state universities giving spots to foreigners rather than the children of taxpayers. One might argue that hampered with massive student debt, it adds insult to injury to give job opportunities under OPT to foreign students rather than their American counterparts.
Rather than the media’s focus on “attracting top talent,” how about America returns to its pre-H1B days of cultivating its own TOP TALENT, then employing, retraining when needed, and keeping the talent, the jobs and the data stateside.
OPT workers are typically hired by U.S. entities, paid significantly less than Americans, and then trade up to become an H1B visa holder when their OPT expires and their employer petitions USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) for that individual. The employer often creates a hyper-specific job description, which only that employed OPT could possibly fill, then petitions and hires that foreign worker without ever giving a U.S. citizen a chance to compete for the job.
Perpetuating myths that fatten the pockets of big tech and corporate America and leave American college graduates in debt and without opportunity is not in anyone’s best interest. Add National Security concerns and intellectual property theft incidences, and the unquestionable right path forward is to severely limit or eliminate OPT altogether. Here’s hoping the Department of Homeland Security will do just that.