President Trump’s June 22 Executive Order (EO) that suspended through year-end 2020 several temporary nonimmigrant visas that include employment authorization is a good beginning. But as the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu would have said way back around 600 B.C., “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The journey for true immigration reform that helps – not crushes – American workers has been, figuratively, a thousand-mile uphill trip. The forces that oppose commonsense immigration policies are powerful: globalists, lobbyists, religious institutions, the mainstream media, Silicon Valley, advocacy groups and immigration lawyers.
Suspended until at least Dec. 31 are visas that hinder thousands of job-seeking Americans. Among them is the H-1B, mostly for tech workers. A recent U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services report found that nearly 600,000 foreign-born tech workers are in the U.S. labor force. These workers are paid at wage levels well below the occupation’s local median wage, an outrage especially in light of large-scale IT layoffs that include currently employed H-1Bs.
Also suspended is the H-2B for nonagricultural workers. This visa often is issued to leisure employees who do jobs that Americans have historically done, including lifeguarding, landscaping and working at high-end resorts. The president’s EO further includes the J-1 visa that bans Summer Work Travel participants who take au pair, camp counselor and internship jobs and the L-1 visa which facilitates international transfers from offices abroad to U.S. locations. Also banned are the family members who may accompany the visa holder or will soon.
But, the EO omitted one of the most egregious immigration programs, Optional Practical Training (OPT), that displaces qualified Americans and is especially harmful to U.S. students who recently earned their university degrees. About 1 million foreign-born are enrolled in America’s colleges and universities, and those students who enter the U.S. on F-1 visas can, through OPT, convert their diplomas into work permits if they have science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) degrees. Several hundred thousand international STEM workers join the U.S. labor force annually.
The general public knows little about OPT. But the programs’ particulars reveal an abuse of immigration policy and disdain for American workers. First and foremost, “practical training” regulations mean work permission; training isn’t its goal. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 provides no employment authorization for the F-1 visa, and originally, the student was expected to return home after completing studies.
OPT was created entirely through regulation and without congressional authorization. The most significant OPT expansion evolved from an all-out Silicon Valley lobbying effort. In 2008, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff met with Microsoft’s Bill Gates at a Georgetown cocktail party. As a result of Chertoff and Gates’ informal talk, focused on circumnavigating the H-1B cap, three revised OPT guidelines evolved.
First, graduated aliens were allowed to remain in F-1 visa status so that, if jobless, they could search for employment. Second, employed OPT aliens could remain in F-1 status from the time their employers filed an H-1B petition on their behalf and until a decision was made on that petition. Finally, DHS authorized a 17-month work period for aliens with STEM degrees that created a maximum 35-month OPT term. For more than a decade, OPT has been under continuous litigation, yet federal courts have yet to rule on its questionable legality.
OPT represents corporate welfare at its worst. Not only are U.S. tech workers specifically targeted for displacement, but companies that hire OPTs don’t pay FICA payroll taxes. Think of it: U.S. employers receive financial incentives to discriminate against their fellow citizens!
President Trump gets an A- for his June Executive Order. Unlike his Republican and Democratic predecessors who turned their backs on American workers, President Trump realizes that American workers represent the nation’s backbone. But President Trump could achieve the coveted A+ if he would bring his office’s powers to end the likely illegal and ethically indefensible OPT.