Thanks to feds, search for internships tougher

Published on April 28th, 2008

By Rob Sanchez
East Valley Tribune

It’s that time of year when college students are on the hunt for those all important internships and jobs. Thanks to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, their job search just got a whole lot tougher.

Effective as of April 8, a new regulation to extend the Optional Practical Training program was initiated by Chertoff, who was acting at the behest of a group of senators calling themselves the Republican High Tech Task Force. This bureaucratic fiat was pulled off without a vote or public debate, so the senators involved won’t be held responsible for this mean-spirited attack on college-age students and young professionals; no public voting record means no accountability.

Currently, foreign students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), are allowed to work in the U.S. for 12 months by using the OPT program. Students finishing their degree can continue to work in the U.S., but they must transition to other work visas such as H-1B before the 12-month period has expired. OPT is often used as an interim visa because the available H-1B visas run out within days of each new fiscal year.

Under the new regulation, the time period for OPT was increased from 12 months to 29 in order to give foreign STEM students more time to remain in the United States to work, study, and obtain H-1B visas. The extension is a de facto increase in the number of H-1B visas, but its effects are potentially more damaging.

Extending OPT will create a large pool of foreign students and graduates that remain in limbo until they get an H-1B or green card. Neither OPT or H-1B visas have provisions that require employers to favor qualified Americans, but OPT is worse because there is nothing that requires payment of fair salaries, and there are no upper limits on how many of them are allowed to work in the U.S.

This year alone, the DHS estimates there are 70,000 foreign students and graduates waiting in the queue for an extension. They hold jobs that tens of thousands of American students desperately need. It’s a simple numbers game – Americans are forced to compete for a diminishing number of jobs with thousands of students from foreign countries who are willing to work for less.

So those who thirst for vast quantities of cheap and educated labor scored a huge victory at the expense of American students who are sacrificed as collateral damage in the war to improve corporate earnings. Students and recent grads won’t be the only ones to feel the effects of this "job buster." It won’t take long until professionals with several years experience are shunned from jobs that are occupied with those who transitioned from OPT status to H-1B. Expect a downward spiral of wages as the flood of foreign STEM students work their way up the labor food chain.

Normally when a regulation is being considered, there is a period of public comment to consider all sides of the issue. But this time there was no debate. Buried deep within the 48-page regulation, the DHS circumvented protocol by invoking the "Administrative Procedure Act," allowing procedures to be ignored when issues are thought to be vital to the public interest. So DHS makes the extraordinary claim that extending OPT is a national emergency that’s so urgent implementation can’t wait for debate. They elevated the issue to same level as a terrorist dirty bomb attack!

The DHS document contains a hyperbolic warning that any delays in implementation of the regulation would result in "serious damage to important interests." Unmentioned is the fact that Bill Gates recently lobbied the Senate for an OPT extension and made audacious claims that the future of high-tech depends on the ability of Microsoft to employ and retain foreign students.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this regulatory activism is constitutional. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states that Congress shall have the power to "establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization." By increasing the number of foreign students who can work while they study, the DHS, which is part of the executive branch, is trampling the jurisdiction of the legislative branch. This is another all too common example of constitutional malfeasance under the Bush administration that shouldn’t be tolerated.

Rob Sanchez is a Chandler resident and is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (www.capsweb.org). He can be reached at [email protected].

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