"Working Off Their Student Visas"
May 01, 2008, 09:00 AM
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The following two stories are blatant propaganda pieces, but there is one tidbit of information in each that's worth noting: notice the way they recognize that Optional Practical Training is a de facto H-1B visa. These two quotes tell it all:
'When we go to hire someone, they are typically working off of their student visas,' Scott said. '[Because of the H-1B scarcity], you don't know if these individuals that you've hired are going to get a [visa] and if you're going to be able to continue to employ them past a particular date in that year.'[Visa shortage hurting Georgia businesses By Urvaksh Karkaria The Atlanta Business Chronicle, April 28, 2008 ]

Other applicants are still worrying, though. Henry Suelau, a lawyer with Miles & Stockbridge PC in Baltimore, said his firm submitted about two dozen applications for clients. Many applicants, such as Baltimore Aircoil's, work on extended student visas that expire a year after their college graduation. But the visas they applied for this month don't become effective until Oct. 1. Workers whose student visas expire next month may be forced to leave the country before they learn the status of their application.[Lottery keeps visa applicants in dark By Scott Dance The Baltimore Business Journal (MD), April 28, 2008 ]

I find it more than interesting that these two articles, by two different authors, writing for two different magazines, had such similar things to write. Oh well, it's probably just one of those weird coincidences!

What makes Optional Practical training so pernicious is that Americans are excluded from the entire hiring process. Here's how the process works to leave Americans out of the hiring game:

  • * A foreign student at one of our universities is hired by a company. The student is given authorization to work as an intern either before or right after graduation by using Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.
  • * That student can work up to 29 months, in which time his employer can file for an H-1B visa or a green card. The time limit used to be 12 months until the DHS recently extended the window to 27 months (see recent newsletters about OPT). In effect, when the DHS increased the time window, they allowed far more aliens to work here without having to obtain H-1B visas. It's a convenient way to get around the H-1B cap, and that's why the OPT extension acts as a "de facto" H-1B increase. By extending the window the DHS will create a huge new pool of educated foreign workers waiting for H-1B visas who will be like airplanes in a holding pattern, at an airport, waiting to land.
  • * During the time the student is working as an intern with OPT, the employer never has to look for another worker. American students, and those who recently graduated that may have several years work experience, are never even considered because the job position is already filled.
  • * When the H-1B visa is granted the foreign student on OPT, for all practical purposes, becomes a permanent employee. The employer never even has to interview for a new hire. No interviews mean that Americans looking for work never knew there was a job opening. The OPT gives employers plausible deniability if they are ever asked if they looked for American workers because they never actually had an open job position — they had an INTERNSHIP instead. Of course employers aren't required to consider Americans for OPT or H-1B, but at least H-1B regulations state that they should make a "good faith" effort to look for qualified Americans.
Norm Matloff discussed OPT in a 2006 newsletter called "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act Of 2006".

For the last 5-10 years, it has been typical in the industry to have a policy in which it is very difficult for a new graduate to get a software development job without having had internship/co-op experience. And if you don't get into a development position at the beginning, it is quite difficult to get one later. In other words, internship/co-op experience is crucial to being able to have a development career.

Moreover, often in internship/co-op positions a bond develops between the employer and student, making it much easier for the student to get a permanent job with the employer after graduation.

The situation Matloff and I describe is not theoretical. In the year 2000 Norm Matloff uncovered a case where this exact scenario played out at a company called womenconnect.com, who hired a student from Mexico who was attending a U.S. university. To read about it go here.

I helped Matloff to do research that nailed womenconnect. At the time both of us thought the story would be a smoking gun that would cripple the H-1B program. Unfortunately the story was ignored by the media so it turned out to be a dud instead of a smoking gun. We sure tried though!