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US: OPT students arrested as colleges accused of “wilful ignorance”

Some 1,100 of the 220,000 Optional Practical Training permits held by international students in the US involve fraud, the Department of Homeland Security has concluded, as authorities announced they had arrested 15 nonimmigrant students.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has identified 1,100 permit holders who "look like they are not obeying the law". Photo: pexels

The administration is making international students and now school officials "scapegoats for the nation’s economic woes", NAFSA said

Authorities also warned that “there’ll be consequences” for universities and designated school officials that are engaged in “wilful ignorance or a level of negligence” when placing international students in the program enabling international students to work in study-related positions for up to one year in the US.

“Threats to terminate certain DSOs for violating a duty that is not theirs is unnecessarily punitive”

Of the 1,100 permit holders Immigration and Customs Enforcement has identified as foreign individuals who “look like they are not obeying the law”, 700 have been notified that their work permits have been revoked.

The remaining 400 permits are close to expiring and will not be renewed.

The Trump administration said the move will help American workers return to work first following the global pandemic.

NAFSA cautioned that the announcement will further deter future international students, who will seek to study in other host countries as a result of Trump administration policies.

The 15 students in question “claimed to be employed by companies that don’t exist”, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said on October 21, as it shared preliminary results from its Operation OPTical Illusion.

Arrests were made in eight US cities including Boston, MA, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, PA and the Washington DC area, with 11 Indian nationals, two Libyan nationals, one Senegalese national and one Bangladeshi national taken into custody.

“Every instance of fraud is a job an American worker could have had, and with so many Americans looking for work this crime is even more unacceptable,” said DHS acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli.

“One of the most un-American things I can imagine is an employer whose depriving qualified Americans of work, while filling that job with a foreign national who doesn’t qualify for it, just to save a buck,” he said.

The OPT program is a work program that “effectively competes with American workers”, Cuccinelli alleged, while continuing to explain that the administration “fully expects to be terminating a fair number” of officials at schools the fraudulent OPT permit holders attended, which he said engage in “wilful ignorance or a level of negligence” when placing students in OPT programs.

“They are not fulfilling their obligation to the US government and the American people, and that has been clear here,” he suggested.

Last year, ICE said it would pass on additional duties DSOs around students on OPT programs.

However, educators hit back against threats against “diligent” members of the higher education community and called for evidence of systemic and abuse of the system.

“Mr. Cuccinelli’s remarks constitute an unsubstantiated and reckless attack on key members of the higher education community who work diligently to support the roughly one million international students who are currently enhancing US campuses, communities, and workplaces,” said NAFSA executive director and CEO Esther D. Brimmer.

NAFSA and its members “stand for the fullest adherence to immigration regulations”, Brimmer noted, adding that DSOs are not responsible for investigating international students’ OPT employers.

“Threats to terminate certain DSOs for violating a duty that is not theirs is unnecessarily punitive. The fact is, DSOs work hard every day to comply with the law and advise their international students while responding to an ever-changing environment,” Brimmer said.

The administration is making international students and now school officials “scapegoats for the nation’s economic woes”, she continued.

Chair of AIEA’s Public Policy Advisory Committee Tom Bogenschild said there is a “general feeling of being under attack” in the sector.

“Without evidence of systemic and abuse of the system my take is that the assessment is not ‘fair’ at all”

“There is I believe a single reference to an actual case that I’ve seen, with no reference to the offending institution. There are some other generic accusations. Without evidence of systemic and abuse of the system my take is that the assessment is not ‘fair’ at all. Let’s see the data,” he told The PIE News.

“My take is that we are seeing an attempt to truly shake down the entire system of international student enrolment and monitoring.”

Brimmer added that it “is certainly not the time to thrust further instability into the field of international education” during a global pandemic and economic recession, considering “international students contributed nearly $41 billion to the US economy last academic year and are a proven source of job-creation”.

“Actions like this will further deter current and future international students from choosing to study in the US and send them into the arms of our competitor countries, including the UK, Canada and Australia, who will continue to reap the rewards of their ingenuity, work ethic, and diverse perspectives,” she said.

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5 Responses to US: OPT students arrested as colleges accused of “wilful ignorance”

  1. America is no more a dream for any international student, much bigger dreams are awaiting in Canada, Australia or UK…I made a biggest mistake of my life by sending them for study to the USA and now I am thinking abt relocating my kids to Canada or elsewhere…America is more great and will never be great again…

  2. This is a correct move actually

    While we see internationals crowding every workplace everywhere in the US, we also see thousands of backlogs of job applications for every job advertised.

    There is no reason why internationals should be appeased

    We find most highly educated internationals taking away even the most unskilled work like janitorial work depriving Americans of jobs

    This is hard reality

    America may be slightly affluent than other countries

    Does not mean that America should become a place for people from every corner of the globe to throng to create a free for all melee

  3. Problem is that these illegal body shops and third party IT contracting companies opened by telegus have abused the OPT and H1B visa program to such an extent that all the students, even brilliant ones who bring exceptional skills to the table and who attended world’s finest universities in America and premier institutes of India- IITs, BITS,IIMs etc. are also being penalized.

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