Foreign students getting around H-1B visa requirements

In 2008, the U.S. government changed the rules on student visas and allowed foreign science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students to work in the U.S. for up to 29 months without an H-1B visa. Students could previously only work for 12 months before they had to get an H-1B visa.

President George W. Bush approved the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program extension for STEM students and the U.S. approved 28,500 OPT applications.

The following year, the number of approved OPT applications more than tripled to 90,900, and has increased every year since.  President Obama also backed the program and expanded the number of fields included.

In 2013 the U.S. approved 123,000 Optional Practical Training (OPT) applications, according to a report titled “Student and Exchange Visitor Program” issued in February by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report states that in the last six years, a total of 560,000 students have received OPT approvals.

The GAO said they found officials who said the program “is at risk for fraud and noncompliance, in part, because it enables eligible foreign students to work in the United States for extended periods of time without obtaining a temporary work visa.” In addition report raises some concerns and the title of page says “DHS needs to access risks and strengthen oversight of foreign students with employment authorization.”

Without the OPT program, students would need to seek a temporary work visa, an H-1B visa. Interestingly, When the OPT extension was first approved, critics attacked it as nothing more than a backdoor expansion of the H-1B program. At the time the OPT was expanded in 2008, the H-1B cap was being exhausted rapidly.

The GAO report recommends that U.S. immigration officials do more to ensure that colleges and employers are complying with OPT rules.

To Read the full report go to http://gao.gov/assets/670/661192.pdf

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Author: Victor Janulaitis

M. Victor Janulaitis is the CEO of Janco Associates. He has taught at the USC Graduate School of Business, been a guest lecturer at the UCLA's Anderson School of Business, a Graduate School at Harvard University, and several other universities in various programs.