Grassley concerned about plan to extend employment benefits to foreign students in STEM program

Grassley-090507-18363- 0032From Press Release


Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa is expressing concern that the Obama administration is proposing expanding employment benefits to foreign students in the Optional Practical Training program despite the fact that the Government Accountability Office says it’s susceptible to abuse and requires additional oversight.

In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Grassley wrote, “The proposed new regulations, while still being internally discussed, are irresponsible and dangerous considering the Government Accountability Office report issued in March 2014 finding that the program was full of inefficiencies, susceptible to fraud, and that the Department was not adequately overseeing it.”

Currently, foreign students are authorized to work for a 12-month period after graduation from a U.S. degree program.  Foreign students graduating from Science, Technology, Engineering and Math degree programs are granted an additional 17 months of employment.  The legality of the STEM Optional Practical Training extension regulations is currently being challenged in federal court.

The Department’s proposal would increase the extension period from 17 to 24 months and allow students to benefit from such an extension twice in their academic career.  A student who graduates from a STEM bachelor’s degree program could work for up to three years after graduation in student status, then go on to get a master’s degree and work for three more years after that.  Thus, under the proposed new regulation, a foreign student could work in the United States post-graduation on a student visa for a total of up to six years, completely outside of the nonimmigrant employment-based visa programs, and their associated worker protections, established by Congress.

Grassley had requested the Government Accountability Office report after hearing concerns that employers were targeting for recruitment foreign students with Optional Practical Training and learning that there was an atypical upward trend in participation.  The report is a follow-on to previous studies about the Student Exchange Visitor Program, which the Government Accountability Office has evaluated and found serious flaws.

The report found that foreign students, sometimes aided by school officials, were abusing the Optional Practical Training program to acquire unauthorized employment in the United States.  In addition, the report said that the federal government’s inability to track the foreign students in the program resulted in a national security risk.

Grassley wrote, “Instead of addressing the weaknesses of the OPT program, or addressing the legitimate criticisms of the OPT-STEM program raised in the Washington Tech Alliance lawsuit, it appears the agency is intent on doubling down on the misguided policies that triggered the GAO report and lawsuit in the first place.”

A copy of the letter to Johnson can be found here.  Grassley’s March 7, 2014, letter to Johnson can be found here.