In a late Friday afternoon announcement, the Department of Homeland Security expanded the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, STEM, Optional Practical Training, STEM OPT. Now, F-1 student visa OPT candidates can have degrees in bioenergy, general forestry, forest resources production and management, human-centered technology design, cloud computing, anthrozoology, climate science, earth systems science, economics and computer science, environmental geosciences, geobiology, geography and environmental studies, mathematical economics, mathematics, atmospheric and oceanic science, general data science, general data analytics, business analytics, data visualization, financial analytics, other data analytics, industrial and organizational psychology, and social sciences, research methodology, and quantitative methods. The complete 22-career long list is intended to give readers the full scope of its dire consequences to U.S. students and professionals, not to bog them down.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a press release and posted a notice in the Federal Register, but the news barely made a blip in the media or even on business channels. STEM OPT’s expansion, however, is significant since the thousands of new foreign-born workers entering the labor pool will adversely affect employed U.S. tech workers or recent U.S. STEM graduates whose prospective careers could be jeopardized.
“Practical training” is a purposely deceptive phrase; in reality, “training,” defined in real terms, means work authorization, a benefit that wasn’t included for F-1 student visas in the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act. Students were expected to return home when they completed their courses of study. In a major and legally questionable departure from the INA, 70 years later, the biggest guest worker program is the F-1 student visa holder.
Joining DHS in making job searches harder for young Americans, the State Department also did its hurtful best. State doubled the time period for J-1 visa travelers, allegedly in the U.S. on a cultural exchange visit, from 18 to 36 months. Investigative journalists have extensively reported that J-1 visa holders, far from participating in cultural exchange, are often employed at jobs Americans will do. The visa is used to import workers whose professions range from au pair to medical doctor.
DHS’ unexpected proclamation offers insight into how today’s federal government works: wealthy elitists team up with high-ranking administration officials at exclusive functions, then lobby for special considerations that will benefit them while falsely claiming America will be the winner. Finally, the insiders, operating in secret, do an end run around Congress to put their destructive policies into place without the appropriate congressional committee debate or vote.
In 2008, OPT mushroomed from a one-year program that took effect after students graduated to 29 months. During a Georgetown cocktail party, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates complained to then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that Congress’ refusal to authorize more H-1B visas above the existing cap impaired Silicon Valley’s ability to maximize its profits. At that time, 65,000 new H-1B visas were available, with an additional 20,000 visas provided to holders of U.S. university-earned master’s degrees or higher. In 2015, the Obama administration, again without congressional approval, increased the OPT F-1 visa overstay authorization period to 36 months.
Rich, powerful and well-connected Gates and Chertoff proved to be a combination that, when they set out to achieve their mutual goal to provide Silicon Valley with more cheap labor, left U.S. tech workers out in the cold. Then-President George W. Bush, an immigration advocate, could have interceded on behalf of Americans, but chose not to.
That’s the new Washington, D.C., normal – agencies make and enforce regulations as law without congressional approval, and the administration ignores the unlawful procedures, pretending that all is well in the nation’s capital. As for displaced U.S. tech workers or struggling graduates, thanks to DHS’ open-borders Mayorkas, U.S. specialists who studied in the 22 STEM fields are left to fend for themselves. Mayorkas realizes the harm he’s inflicting on the nation’s prospective white-collar workers, and he knows that Americans object to prioritizing foreign workers. In his tweet that announced the STEM OPT expansion, Mayorkas purposely omitted “foreign student” to create the false impression that DHS is investing in domestic STEM talent.
OPT has been in litigation for more than a decade, challenging whether OPT holders who are no longer students can legally be allowed to work. For all those years, U.S. tech workers have taken the brunt of the government’s illegal ploys that are used against them indiscriminately to give foreign nationals an advantage in the high-skilled labor market.