Now that a federal judge has allowed a lawsuit against the student guest-worker program that President Barack Obama expanded via executive action to proceed, the federal government will have to prove that there is actually a shortage of high-tech American workers to keep the program intact.
The program in question is the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which critics allege is just a way for high-tech companies to have a more permanent source of cheap foreign labor. According to ComputerWorld, “students still in school or recent graduates can use their student F-1 visas to take jobs through the OPT program” and “employers don’t have to pay them a prevailing wage, or Medicare and Social Security taxes.”
Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) and three IT workers reportedly alleged in the lawsuit “that the OPT program is a conduit for low-wage labor and unfair job competition” because the foreign workers who can be replenished and are subjected to different rules end up being “inherently cheaper.”
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, who issued her ruling the day after Obama announced his executive action granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants and expanded and extended the OPT program, determined that the student guest-workers “were in direct and current competition with OPT students on a STEM extension,” which did in fact harm the plaintiffs.
Students could only be in the program for a year before they had to apply for a formal H-1B guest-worker visas. The tech industry has also lobbied the White House and Congress for massive increases in H-1B visas, with those like Bill Gates having called for an unlimited number of such visas. But, as ComputerWorld noted, President “George W. Bush’s administration in 2008 extended the program for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students by 17 months, or 29 months total.” Students in the program subsequently, and predictably, increased: “The 17-month extension may have acted as a catalyst in generating interest in the OPT program. There were 123,000 approved OPT students last year, compared to 28,500 in 2008 when the added time was approved.”
John Miano, “an attorney involved in the case and founder of the Programmers Guild,” said that the the federal government justified the expansion by falsely claiming that there “was a ‘critical shortage’ of STEM workers” even though the government had “no objective evidence to support the claim of a worker shortage.” Miano told ComputerWorld that if the government cannot prove that there is a “critical shortage” of American high-tech workers, “the regulations fall apart.”