By Bianca Quilantan, Politico
More than 1,100 Optional Practical Training program work permits will either be revoked or not renewed over the next few months following a crackdown on the program, the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday.
USCIS sent 700 letters to OPT recipients this week to alert them that their permits will be revoked. The permits of another 400 international students will not be renewed when they expire over the next few months. The permits allow international students to work in their field of study while in the U.S. on a student visa.
In all, more than 220,000 international students are in OPT programs, but DHS said the 1,100 in question involve fraud. The fraud could involve working in a position that doesn’t relate to a student’s field of study, officials said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement also said Wednesday that it arrested “15 nonimmigrant students who claimed to be employed by companies that don’t exist.”
The announcements come as part of DHS and ICE’s “Operation OPTtical illusion.” Top department officials say their enforcement effort, which began in January, is “targeting nonimmigrant students who fraudulently use the Optional Practical Training Program” and “OPT employers that were engaging allegedly in fraud.”
At a press briefing, DHS acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli linked the crackdown to job losses from the economic downturn brought on by Covid-19 and said the program “effectively competes with potential American workers.” By revoking the visas, Cuccinelli said it would “open up those jobs for American workers.”
“Every one of those fraudulently gained work permits does take a job from an American,” he said. “And that is something that we in the department, at the insistence of the president, are determined to fix.”
Key context: OPT is a key driver of overall international student enrollment in the United States. In 2018-2019, the United States saw slim gains in the total number of foreign college students enrolling in U.S. academic programs. The small overall enrollment bump was attributed to OPT.