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The Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program is a pathway to post-graduation work experience for international students in the United States. The program allows graduates to stay & work in the US for a year after graduation (or up to 3 years in the case of STEM graduates). It is a hugely popular program, with overall participation in the program increasing by over 300% in the past decade.

 

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), suspecting misuse of the program, has been examining “suspicious” files for the past few months. The investigation, which is continuing, has initially focused on 3300 files deemed to be suspicious. DHS announced their results last week after concluding their investigation on the initial 3300 files. Detecting & confirming fraud had indeed been committed, DHS has so far arrested 15 foreign graduates who allegedly claimed to be employed by companies that don’t exist. Arrests were made in Pittsburgh, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Harrisburg, Houston, Nashville, Newark & Washington. Another 1100 graduates working under the OPT programs will reportedly have their work authorizations revoked. These include 400 graduates who were found to have overstayed their student visas.

 

With this action the US administration has strongly signaled its commitment to greater scrutiny of the program. It is clear that this now extends to US college officials as well, though Kenneth Cuccinelli – the acting deputy secretary of homeland security – has avoided directly accusing college officials. But he did say that college officials displayed either “willful ignorance or a level of negligence” in their handling of student files. He also further indicated that findings could lead to “Designated School Officials (DSOs) being subject to termination of their jobs.

 

Responding to these remarks of Mr. Cuccinelli, NAFSA Executive Director & CEO Dr. Esther Brimmer said – “ Mr. Cuccinelli’s remarks constitute an unsubstantiated & reckless attack on key members of the higher education community. While the scope & all other pertinent details of this investigation are unclear, NAFSA & our members stand for the fullest adherence to immigration regulations. It is not the responsibility of the DSOs to investigate international students OPT employers. Threats to terminated certain DSOs for violating their duty that is not theirs is unnecessarily punitive. The fact is, DSOs work hard every day to comply with the law & advise their international students while responding to an ever-changing environment”

 

This action by the US administration is sure to attract international attention given the importance of the OPT program for international graduates.

 

Senior US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official Tony Pham said – “ICE has a system of checks in place to mitigate fraud & is committed to protecting national security by ensuring that students, visitors and schools comply with US Immigration laws. These latest arrests demonstrate that ICE is targeting only those individuals who try to exploit the student visa system”.

 

Legitimate students, who do not exploit the OPT program, can continue to reap the benefits of the program. Only “bad actors” who try to exploit the system need worry about their prospects of continuing to reside in the United States.

 

Source : ICEF

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