A new unit to examine the use of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) for students and employers has been developed by the United States Department of Homeland and Security.
The Optional Practical Training program permits international students to work in the US up to three years, under the authorization granted from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), VisaGuide.World reports.
The US Department of Homeland and Security announced that the new Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit introduced this week will help the agency better examine the use of the program and recommend investigations of employers and students.
The department said that at present, it is unable to evaluate the influence that OPT has had on US workers as well as international students who have obtained work authorization.
The Homeland Security on its statement stressed that the “OPT Employment Compliance Unit would be wholly focused on wages, hours and compensation in the program.”
“This unit will also be responsible for recommending investigations of employers and students, as needed, to Homeland Security Investigations to ensure that the OPT programs operate in a lawful manner at US worksites,” the statement stressed.
The department noted that if the unit obtains evidence that an employer uses the OPT program in a discriminatory manner or that it has negatively impacted wages, then through the unit will notify the US Department of Labor and the Department of Justice.
According to Homeland Security, the unit seeks to ensure companies who employ technology workers who are allowed for the three-year permits “are adhering to the required promises and training plan.”
“The loss of employment many US workers have faced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as employers lay off significant portions of their workforce (while still, in some cases, seeking to hire more foreign workers), makes this work particularly timely,” the announcement highlights.
Several accusations were addressed to the OPT program representatives, in December by a union of US technology workers who stressed that Homeland Security used the OPT program in order to get around the numerical cap on H-1B visas and that the program workers gained an unlawful advantage because employers did not have to pay Medicare and Social Security taxes for them.
International Students to Face Massive Losses in New H-1B Selection Process
Last week, President Trump’s administration once again modified norms by applying amendments to regulations in order to prioritize higher wages and skills for selecting candidates.
The new rule changes the H-1B visa program selection process from random selection, which was previously applied, to the new one based on wages.
However, the new selection process will negatively impact international students, as most international students are sponsored for Level 1, of H-1B positions.
The USCIS in this regard has stressed that the changes applied in the Final Rule will not affect international students, because they will have enough time during their OPT status to get more experience, which would help them be included in a higher wage level.
Still, only students engaged in a specific field such as science, engineering, technology and mathematics may be qualified for three years of OPT program, while the rest of international students may be eligible for only one year of OPT.
Universities have raised concerns that the recent changes will have a “devastating effect on US education’s attractiveness.” According to some Universities’ representatives, the uncertainty of being permitted to work in the United States for at least some time after graduation will be a huge discouragement for students.
The current rules permit the USCIS to first select registrations based on the highest Occupational Employment Statistics prevailing wage level that the offered wage equals or exceeds for the relevant Standard Occupational Classification code and area(s) of intended employment.
Therefore, the Final Rule gives priority to the selection of highly skilled international workers, taking into account their experience and job duties and salaries.
Level 4 is the most completed one, then going down through other types until Level 1.
The United States Department of Labor data showed the wage levels through which employees would be qualified, through a combination of education and experience required for this job.
- Level 1 (entry-level)
- Level 2 (qualified)
- Level 3 (experienced)
- Level 4 (fully competent)
The USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow previously emphasized that the H-1B visa program has been used and sometimes abused by employers “primarily seeking to fill entry-level positions and reduce overall business costs.”
The rules mentioned above would bring new difficulties for the US’s business industry if they were permitted.
Back in September, Trump’s administration revealed that it addressed the proposed amendment to the H-1B visa to the Office of Management and Budget of the White House.
According to President Trump’s administration, the amendments sought to clarify what “special occupations” really stands for.