Democrats Complain as DHS Shuts One College Visa-Fraud Pipeline

Online Ivy League Course
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Universities and migration advocates are denouncing the administration’s decision to revive a rule that denies student visas and work permits to migrants who enroll in online-only U.S. colleges.

The decision comes after the Department of Homeland Security had suspended the uncontroversial rule during the spring in response to the emergency shutdown of classes in many elite and established U.S. colleges.

DHS is now restoring the rule to minimize large-scale work-permit fraud while U.S. graduates try to regain jobs amid the coronavirus crash.

Reformers praised DHS’s fix, which is likely to be popular among voters worried about the inflow of foreign workers.  The agency “has made the right decision about not allowing foreign students to come to the U.S. to take full-time, on-line courses,” said David North, a former journalist who now works with the Center for Immigration Studies.

“If one can be anywhere in the world where there is a computer to take online courses, why should that person be allowed to enter the U.S. for this purpose?  …. many [come] here for a job rather than an education,” he said.

But foreign students, immigration advocates, and immigration lawyers dramatically denounced the routine rule’s restoration. For example, Buzzfeed news reported:

“I certainly do not want to go through this,” Lisa [from Africa] told BuzzFeed News. “For a lot of international students like myself, returning home right now is a death sentence for many reasons, including the pandemic. Learning in the USA has been a refuge for so many of us.”

Additionally, Lisa said, taking online classes back home is impossible because she wouldn’t have access to the internet or a quiet learning environment.

“This move is cruel, unnecessary, and counterproductive to America’s long-term interests,” said a tweet from Hillary Clinton. “A Trump administration special.”

“Kicking international students out of the U.S. during a global pandemic because their colleges are moving classes online for physical distancing hurts students,” said a tweet from Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “It’s senseless, cruel, and xenophobic.”

“Forcing international students to either transfer or leave the country increases the likelihood we lose both current and future entrepreneurs and innovators to other countries,” claimed a tweet by Mike Bloomberg’s New American Economy lobby group.

DHS explained the new policy and detailed the options for foreign students and U.S. colleges:

Due to COVID-19, SEVP instituted a temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation to maintain their nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency.

Foreign students should go home if their colleges are only providing online courses, said DHS:

Nonimmigrant F-1 [visa] and M-1 [visas] students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.

But students can stay if their colleges provide even a few hours of face-to-face tuition, said DHS:

Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.

Colleges and universities can keep their online students by adding some face-to-face education to the online courses, DHS said. 

Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.

So far, U.S. colleges and universities have not said if they will add some face-to-face classes to keep their online students from being sent home.

Only eight percent of colleges are planning online-only classes, according to a report on the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But that small share includes some influential universities, such as Harvard. According to a July 6 report by National Public radio;

Harvard President Larry Bacow said in a statement emailed to NPR that the ICE policy is “a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem.”

“We must do all that we can to ensure that our students can continue their studies without fear of being forced to leave the country mid-way through the year, disrupting their academic progress and undermining the commitments—and sacrifices—that many of them have made to advance their education,” the statement said.

“The guidance is unworkable and deeply harmful,” said Craig Lindwarm, vice president of governmental affairs for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, according to a Washington Post report. The report sketched Lindwarm’s concern that the policy revival could hurt the education industry’s annual revenue of $41 billion from foreign students:

He was concerned not just for the short-term impact of the announcement but for the message it would send long-term about the contributions international students make to the United States.

“There is a global competition for the best and brightest students, and the United States continues to lose ground in this competition.” One reason for that, he said, is the policy and messaging of the federal government. “That needs to be addressed.”

While China’s coronavirus disease is causing much pain and harm to U.S. colleges and foreign students — it has also thrown at least 20 million Americans out of their jobs.

The Americans’ ability to regain their jobs is threatened by the universities’ business of providing work permits to foreign students.

DHS oversees two huge programs that allow migrants to get into the country and to get work permits by first paying tuition fees to a vast variety of U.S. colleges and universities.

Each year the Curricular Practical Training and the Optional Practical Training programs allow roughly 500,000 migrants to get work permits for jobs sought by U.S. graduates. The two programs were created and expanded by White House staffers, not by Congress’s legislators. They provide tax subsidies for companies that hire the foreign graduates instead of American graduates.

The foreign workforce of 500,000 graduates is huge — especially because U.S. universities annually graduate roughly 800,000 Americans with skilled degrees.

Many of the U.S. students are left struggling in low-wage jobs. In contrast, some of the foreign students are hired from elite universities into elite companies, often by co-ethnic hiring managers. This process creates pipelines of foreign workers from universities, such as Carnegie Mellon University or MIT, directly into companies such as Google and Facebook.

But many other OPT and CPT workers are hired by a little-known industry of subcontractors that supply the Fortune 500 with cheap gig workers.

The foreign migrants — mostly Indians — are willing to accept the unpaid training, very low wages, and long hours because they are competing to get slots in the H-1B visa program. If they get into the H-1B program, they can get green cards in exchange for many years of compliant work. and sometimes, also for payments to their managers.

The OPT hiring process was described by an American immigrant tech-worker who called herself “Jennifer from New York.” Jennifer said she has worked with many OPT workers:

Let’s say I’m an OPT. I just finished my basic English school. Guess what? I can’t find a job. Obviously I can’t find a job because I don’t have the skills. .… Now, what is it that you [as a Fortune 500 subcontractor] are going to do? You’re going to train me on programming skills. You’re going to give me two, three weeks worth of training, and guess what you’re gonna do, you’re gonna fake my resume …

You’re just going to go in and fake my resume, and go to the [Fortune 500] client and say, ‘Hey, I have a special person that has 10 years of experience.

Guess what? The true American that has the true experience is now excluded. And who’s going to verify the employment verification [claims]?  The [Fortune 500] client isn’t going to do it … [and] you won’t do it because you’re lying.

The Indian-born managers at the Fortune 500 companies and the subcontractors are happy to cooperate with the process, she said, because they get $500 to $1,500 for selling a job to an Indian gig worker.

The government’s unlimited OPT and CPT programs also have a national economic impact. They provide subsidized imported labor for employers in expensive coastal locations, so skewing the U.S. labor market. In turn, this process transfers jobs, careers, people, and wealth from interior states to the Democrat-dominated coastal states.

The Fortune 500 executives ignore the subcontractors’ discrimination and cheating because they are hiring disposable workers for routine starter jobs, such as software testing, patching, and modifications.

But the Fortune 500 companies also prefer migrants because they want to minimize the number of innovative American tech professionals who can quit to develop rival technologies.

The discriminatory policy is safe for the Fortune 500 executives because they are not legally responsible for criminal or civil violations by their subcontractors. The legal shield works even when the violations are made obvious by the migrant workers’ lack of skills or fraudulent documents. The same legal rules protect real estate developers who hire subcontractors who staff their crews with illegal aliens.

Also, white-collar Americans must be excluded from this subcontractor process because the Indian managers know that Americans are likely to expose cheating, discrimination, and corruption in the OPT and CPT jobs, said Jennifer.

Universities and Fortune 500 companies say they need the CPT and OPT programs to help hire the “best and brightest.”

“OPT is a terrific training tool for new graduates in their fields,” said immigration lawyer Charles Kuck. “CPT has clearly been abused for the last decade,” he added. The policy revival, he said:

Its actually a nightmare for legitimate schools like Emory University and other well-regarded institutions that have chosen to go mostly, or all, online this fall becuase of the COVID-19 resurgence. There are far easier and better options to go after abuse of the CPT abuse that exists, including tying it directly to mandatory, in-person classes. This [policy] change violates the APA [Administrative Procedures Act], is going to get shut down in court rather quickly, and intentionally casts too broad a net against foreign students who pay full tuition and make up a majority of many prestigious institutions’ research/PhD programs.

But only 17,124 foreigners earned science PhDs in the United States in 2018, and those PhDs also qualified for O-1 visas, often dubbed “genius visas.”

The data suggests that the Ph.D. “best and brightest” at less than 3.5 percent of the OPT and CPT workforce.

A June 2020 ombudsman report outlines some of the oversight problems with the OPT program.

Trump announced June 22 that he would limit and reform the H-1B program, which keeps roughly 600,000 foreign graduates in the jobs sought by U.S. graduates. The reforms will open up roughly 50,000 jobs for American graduates each year — unless Fortune 500 companies step up their employment of OPT and CPT workers.

Trump’s decision came amid pressure from a new group of white-collar grassroots lobbying groups.

So far, Trump has not announced any fixes for the CPT/OPT problem, largely because the program is strongly defended by the universities and by the Fortune 500 companies which benefit from the inflow of cheap and compliant labor.

DHS should take “action against a handful of colleges that offer one-weekend-a-month courses for ‘fly-in’ foreign student,” he said. “These operations are simply meant to provide legal permission to alien workers who would otherwise be excluded.”

Follow Neil Munro on Twitter @NeilMunroDC, or email the author at


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