The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that a new unit will be launched by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to monitor the Optical Practical Training (OPT) work permit scheme. The unit will focus on making sure compliance is met in terms of personnel, wages, hours and salaries.
The DHS said: “The unit will support ICE, which is currently unable to evaluate the impact OPT has had on US workers and foreign students who have obtained work authorisation.”
The OPT US immigration program recently escaped abolition after a federal judge rule against a motion filed by the tech union, which claimed that the system was ‘unfair to domestic employees.’
OPT Employment Compliance Unit
The launch of the OPT Employment Compliance Unit comes following the federal judge’s ruling, which was seen as protecting the rights of international students in the US, while recognizing their contribution to the US economy.
The OPT US immigration program is a popular route to full-time employment in the US, providing a pathway to the coveted US H1B visa. In the 2019 fiscal year, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) granted a record 223,284 OPT work permit requests.
The DHS said the new unit will be tasked with recommending the investigation of employers and students thought to be in breach of OPT rules. The agency said: “Such investigations ensure that the OPT programmes operate in a lawful manner at US worksites.”
“For example, if the unit were to detect evidence that an employer is using OPT in a discriminatory manner (e.g., as a means to hire only foreign nationals or only individuals of certain nationalities to the exclusion of others), or in a manner that negatively impacts wages, this unit may notify the US Department of Labour and the US Department of Justice,” the agency added.
Easier H1B visa transition
On a positive note for international students, greater scrutiny of the OPT program should ensure that international students at the end of their temporary work permit can easily transition to the H1B visa.
Kelli Duehning, a former DHS attorney, claims that the new OPT Employment Compliance Unit will transition into the Biden administration.
She said: “This new unit could be positive if they moved from an enforcement-minded focus to more of a unit that tries to understand the extent of any fraud, why it is happening, and finding solutions to ensure the fraud can be detected more easily and preventing it from it happening in the first place.”
Under the OPT US immigration program, foreign students are able to remain in the US and work for anywhere between 12 months and three years – depending on their area of study.
Once a student’s OPT expires, they have a 60-day ‘grace period’ in which time they must leave the US, change their US immigration status, or transfer their F1 visa status to a new school or programme.
Should an international student remain in the US, without updating their status, this would be considered ‘unlawful presence’.
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