|    Hilarie Gamm

OPT: Turning Smiles into Tears for US College Grads

American graduation day smiles are quickly turning into tears, as the debt burden rises for U.S. college grads and their job prospects disappear.  Close to 300,000 entry level positions are being robbed from Americans each year through OPT – the Optional Practical Training Program.  Americans are often being denied the opportunity to interview for thousands of job openings while the majority of those employed continue to see wages stagnate.

Established under the second Bush administration and expanded upon during the Obama administration, OPT offers U.S. employers the opportunity to circumvent the H1B annual visa cap and hire foreign workers in place of Americans.  Jobs ranging from nursing to coding are being filled by foreign applicants.

Neither the employers nor the F1 OPT workers are required to pay payroll taxes under the OPT program.  Foreign OPT workers, therefore,  “cost”  their employers 15+% less than their American peers.  OPT workers are permitted to stay in the U.S. indefinitely as the Optional Practical Training program issues STEM work permits for 36 month stints for each STEM degree earned.  If an OPT worker is nearing their OPT work permit expiration, that worker needs only to earn another STEM degree to remain in the U.S., sometimes studying as little as one weekend per month while maintaining their full time employment.

OPT is superior to every other foreign worker employment vehicle because of its limitless potential.  The OPT program’s largest employers include many of our country’s biggest H1B employers and represent some of our nation’s most profitable corporations: Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, and IBM. In addition, American universities offer specialized programs to enable foreign students to easily transition into OPT employment and in many instances, those same universities hire OPTs rather than Americans for many of their teaching and research positions.

The U.S. Government Accountability office (GAO) has advised the Department of Homeland security regarding the significant opportunity for corrupt employment and education practices under OPT.  Fake universities, labor mills and corruption have been associated with the Optional Practical Training program as it has grown nearly 400% in recent years and employed more than a quarter of a million foreigners in 2017 alone.

Surprisingly, however, group’s like AARP and MedicareAdvocacy have remained silent on the harm of OPT even as medicare and social security coffers lose out on billions in contributions as a result of the program. One wonders, who would agree to a program that sidelines American college graduates in favor of foreign students while simultaneously costing American taxpayers close to 3 billion?

Since Congress never authorized the Optional Practical Training Program, many legislators are unfamiliar with this legal employment loophole that is anything but, “America First”.  And as Tucker Carlson reported this week, the opportunity to “look the other way” on pushing educated Americans out of the workforce in favor of foreign hires is a non partisan position.

Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, a STEM graduate himself, made the choice to advocate for American citizen college grads and introduce HR 3564 – The Fairness for High Skilled Americans Act. With OPT operating under the media radar, HR 3564 is just gaining steam as AWC works to educate Congressional offices weekly on the particulars of the Optional Practical Training program and the consequences of this employment vehicle administered by DHS where little to no training ever occurs.

Today, less than 50% of STEM graduates land a job working in STEM, the Optional Practical Training program for F-1 visa holders is a driving force behind this reality. Rather than enjoy the benefits of a tight labor market, today’s U.S. college grads find it harder than ever to land a job.

Now is the time to take action.  Sharing the facts on OPT with neighbors, friends, family, and Congress will elevate the discussion and bring OPT into the news.  OPT is not merit-based; it does not bring the best and brightest to our shores to study, work, and live.  It is a work program put into effect by Executive Order to satisfy a donor class that benefits from educating and employing foreigners before American citizens.

Contact me today at hilariegamm@gmail.com and join AWC in fighting for Americans FIRST for jobs and education!


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