For years it has been federal policy to encourage students to focus on science, technology, engineering and math (referred to as STEM). There are no fewer than 12 federal grant programs related to this, covering everything from minority science scholarships to magnet school assistance. There is even a STEM Education Advisory Panel.
These degrees cost money. The U.S. has over 44 million people who owe an average of $29,000 in student loans, exceeding $1.5 trillion in combined student loan debt.
With this in mind, why would the federal government, through an executive order no less, implement the F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) Visa, which allows over 250,000 foreign students to remain in the U.S. and work in STEM jobs? Moreover, why would the federal government give financial incentives to hire these foreign students over American students with the degrees and skills? None of this makes sense, but it is in fact happening. I intend to change this, and I have introduced legislation to do so.
President Trump’s economy is pushing wages higher and creating opportunities for many. The data suggest there is one group of Americans who are not benefiting from this robust economy, and they might just make the difference between GOP candidates winning or losing in 2020.
While Big Tech pushes the NASDAQ to historic highs, Silicon Valley wages for the majority of employees continue to stagnate. Somehow the numbers are not adding up for highly-skilled American workers. One factor increasingly recognized as being part of the problem is the OPT program.
OPT fast tracks F-1 student visa holders while their U.S. classmates are sidelined. American middle-class parents are feeling the sting when their children struggle to get job interviews and their children’s foreign friends and former collegemates are graduating with offers in hand.
In 2017, more than a quarter million foreign students in the U.S. on F-1 visas were given the option to remain in the U.S. and work under the OPT program. Thanks to an executive action initiated by President Obama’s administration, every F-1 OPT STEM graduate is allowed to remain in the U.S. for up to 3 years with each degree earned.
With no limits, restrictions, or merit-based qualifications, these F-1 OPT workers are employed in every industry sector across our great nation, and America’s swing voters and their children are being disadvantaged.
Each F-1 OPT worker represents a loss to U.S. taxpayers. Not only are American college graduates missing out on great jobs as a result of the OPT program, but neither the OPT worker nor their employer are required to pay FICA taxes. This represents a 15.3 percent tax break to OPT hires and their employers. In other words, American taxpayers are subsidizing foreigners to take away jobs from American taxpayers.
The U.S. is estimated to lose roughly $2 billion per year in Medicare and Social Security contributions because of the OPT program.
The Fairness for High Skilled Americans Act (H.R. 3564) is legislation I introduced in June to end the OPT program. Its passage will level the playing field for American educated job seekers to have a real shot of getting hired, while eliminating the tax incentive to hire foreign labor before American citizens.
President Trump’s Buy American/Hire American policy of 2017 is in direct opposition to the OPT giveaway which circumvents the H-1B 85,000 annual visa cap by creating unlimited job placement for F-1 graduates. There are many heartbreaking stories of American college graduates who are denied the opportunity to even interview for domestic STEM jobs. In fact, a comprehensive study released by Economic Policy Institute shows that for “every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired in a STEM job.”
In debt and discouraged, America’s best and brightest deserve a fair chance to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without their citizenship being held against them.
Supporting H.R. 3564 translates to support for America’s middle-class and our nation’s educated professionals. The discrimination against Americans needs to end. The Fairness for High-Skilled Americans Act will give highly-skilled Americans the chance they so rightly deserve to succeed in the 21st century job market.
Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S., represents Arizona’s Fourth Congressional District.