U.S. Government Backs Off from Deporting Online-Only Foreign College Students

The United States said July 6 it would not allow foreign students to remain in the country if all of their classes are moved online
CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images

The government will preserve a coronavirus rule that helps Fortune 500 companies recruit foreign graduates from U.S. colleges amid the pandemic, government lawyers told a judge Tuesday.

The announcement was made in a Massachusetts courtroom as Harvard, supported by many other colleges and companies, sued to preserve the F-1 student visas and the two “Practical Training” programs that award work permits to roughly 500,000 foreign students and graduates each year.

Corporate labor brokers, companies, and migration advocates applauded the quick win.

“Schools can go online if they want,” said a tweet from Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer who helps to import foreign doctors for jobs at U.S. hospital chains. “Congratulations Harvard and the Wilmer Hale team. Big big win!”

Federal law and regulations bar the award of the F-1 student visas and work permits to foreigners who enroll in online-only education courses.

This face-to-face policy curbs the ability of established or fly-by-night U.S. colleges to offer online-only courses in exchange for the I-20 documents that allow foreigners to get the work permits via the Optional Practical Training and the Curricular Practical Training programs. Even with this limit, colleges annually earn $40 billion by providing the documents needed for 500,000 work permits each year.

In March, the Department of Homeland Security suspended this face-to-face regulation, and allowed online-only courses, as the Chinese coronavirus closed down many colleges and universities.

On July 6, as the virus ebbed, the DHS modified the suspension, saying foreign students must attend at least one face-to-face course to be eligible for the work permits.

The universities instantly protested, and companies quickly backed them up.

“It is unfortunate that their pressure, yet again, stood in the way of this administration enforcing the laws on the books,” said a statement from Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “The president needs to reaffirm his commitment to implementing immigration policies that serve the interests of the American people given how quickly he threw in the towel on this matter.”

The DHS courtroom announcement reportedly only applies to enrolled students, not to future students.

This limited retreat may help the agency formally restore the face-to-face rule in the next few weeks or months.

But the universities and companies will likely ask judges to break the face-to-face rule, thus opening the doors to a huge inflow of foreign white-collar workers in 2021.

Without a face-to-face rule, many additional foreigners will be able to get work permits by paying tuition fees to online-only colleges.

“If it is 100 percent online, with no requirement to show up for class … we’re getting into potential labor trafficking,” said Kevin Lynn, founder of U.S. Tech Workers. “That’s why we have to get rid of OPT,” he said.

Currently, the universities make $40 billion from foreign students seeking work permits — and the Fortune 500 earn many additional billions as foreign students push down wages in entry-level jobs.

But the OPT program is threatened by President Donald Trump, who issued curbs on June 22 and directed his deputies to write new regulations.

The universities sued the government because they want to preserve their revenues, said Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of homeland defense “What’s really driving them is the moolah — that’s their big interest,” Cuccinelli told Sirius XM’s Breitbart News Daily host Alex Marlow.

“Don’t forget the one big thing — the old ‘Follow the Money,” he said July 9. “They’re making big, big money.”

A legal brief by Fortune 500 companies backed the university lawsuit, saying the program helps them recruit foreign graduates for jobs in the United States:

Defendants did not take account of the substantial benefits to U.S. businesses from international students’ employment in the United States during and after their course of study, or businesses’ reliance on international students to provide a critical element of their workforce.

The July 6 Directive will disrupt companies’ recruiting plans, making it impossible to bring on board international students that businesses, including amici, had planned to hire, and disrupting the recruiting process on which companies have relied to identify and train their future employees.

The business groups also said the program would help universities to improve the quality of their faculties:

Individuals who come here as international students are also essential to educating the next generation  … “In 2015, 30 percent of science and engineering faculty were foreign-born individuals with doctorates from U.S. schools—a group largely made up of those who came to the United States on student visas—compared to just 12 percent in 1973.”

The foreign students were represented in the lawsuit by two unions:

Many of these workers are foreign-born and hold F-1 nonimmigrant student visas permitting them to study, live, and work in the United States. ICE’s action has severely disrupted these UAW members’ educational and employment plans.

The companies are admitting they want to recruit foreign graduates instead of Americans, said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “They are saying it will cut into our ability to use this system to hire foreign workers,” he added. “They are saying: ‘We have factored this dishonest program into our business models.'”

The July 6 announcement was good news because it would have helped American graduates get jobs amid the coronavirus crash, Krikorian said. “Business won’t be able to rely on this supply of captive foreign workers and may — God Forbid! — have to recruit from Americans who are graduating from college.”

Nationwide, roughly 500,000 OPT and CPT work permits are used by foreigners to take jobs sought by the American graduates of Harvard, MIT, and many additional colleges.

Fewer than 20,000 of the OPT work permits go to foreigners who have earned PhD.s.

Some foreign students win jobs at elite companies, often with the help of co-ethnic hiring managers. The federal data shows that in 2018, Amazon used the OPT program to hire 2,911 foreigners, Intel hired 1,348 foreigners, Google hired 1,193, and Microsft hired 867.

Many executives at the Fortune 500 companies prefer to hire foreign graduates instead of Americans who can quit their jobs to create rival products. In fact, many of these elite companies have work forces and management teams that mostly consist of foreign graduates.

But the Fortune 500 companies also gain when the OPT program provides replacement workers to a huge variety of their little-known subcontracting companies.

Those subcontractor gig-worker jobs were once filled by young American graduates who were starting careers in technology accounting, management, and marketing.

The foreign OPT workers routinely accept unpaid training, very low wages, and long hours because they want to work several years in America and 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 work.

The OPT hiring process was described by an American immigrant tech-worker who called herself “Jennifer from New York”:

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.

Follow Neil Munro on Twitter @NeilMunroDC, or email the author at NMunro@Breitbart.com.

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