Barack Obama’s Homeland Security Department has just ramped up its assault on the American middle class. In response to lobbying pressure from the trillion-dollar technology industry, this week DHS announced a new regulation that will dramatically expand the number of foreign STEM-degree (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) holders allowed to work in the tech industry. This is just the latest of several moves from Obama at the end of his final term to flood the American labor market with workers from foreign countries.
The new proposed rule involves the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, a DHS creation set up to provide job opportunities for the foreign-student market. The university industry loves OPT. Noting the extra tuition they pay, UC Davis professor Norm Matloff says universities love foreign students “not because the students are ‘the best and the brightest,’ but because they are ‘the richest.’” Matloff says foreign students have become a “profit center” for American universities.
As for Big Tech, they love the program even more. The new extension will give temporary work permits to “students” for a full three years after they graduate from a STEM program (the period has traditionally been one year). Not only will this artificially expand the domestic labor pool by hundreds of thousands, but 100 percent of the new recruits will be young and therefore cheap, and almost guaranteed to neither unionize nor get poached from competitors (because their “student” visas will be tied to their employers). Further, because these workers are still technically “students,” they won’t have to pay payroll taxes, saving the company around $10,000 for each of the three years they’re in the program. To American STEM grads and unemployed tech workers, look out for new job ads saying “OPT applicants only; working Americans need not apply.”
The expansion of OPT is in direct response to the Big Tech lobby’s long frustration with Congress’s “gridlock” over expanding the annual 85,000 cap on H-1B visas (for workers with expertise in specialized fields, supposedly). In its initial attempt to expand OPT, DHS admitted that the extension was indeed an attempt to circumvent the visa caps, saying “the H-1B category is greatly oversubscribed,” which, as a result, has “adversely affected the ability of U.S. employers to recruit and retain skilled workers.” Big Tech’s push for a bureaucratic workaround has been massive. Between 2008 and 2012, a relatively uneventful time for immigration legislation, Big Tech spent close to $1.5 billion lobbying the White House and members of Congress on the immigration issue. As labor economist George Borjas writes, corporate lobbying on immigration should be “the best piece of evidence” needed to show that wages drop when immigration rises. As he says, “why would employers tend to go to Washington and expend their resources lobbying for something that doesn’t benefit them?”
#share#Expanded or not, the OPT program should anger liberals and libertarians alike. Like other employment-visa programs, OPT works to lower the wages and living standards of a growing portion of the middle class, many of whom live in blue states on the West Coast. The program also acts as an immigration subsidy for the rent-seeking tech industry. Although tech workers’ wages have been flat for years and thousands of American STEM grads are out of work, tech executives and shareholders are rolling in money. The revenues at HP, IBM, and Microsoft alone reached almost $300 billion in 2014, 50 percent higher than the entire GDP of Central America.
If the agency receives enough angry comments from the public, it could fold and pull the new regulation entirely.
DHS has had to issue the new OPT regulation following a lawsuit (still ongoing) brought by the group I work for, the Immigration Reform Law Institute. Originally the agency had tried to push through the OPT expansion without going through the more transparent notice-and-comment period, a process that lets the public comment on new regulations and requires the issuing agency to respond to them. Representing a group of American tech workers, we challenged DHS on this issue (and others), and the D.C. District Court responded by ordering DHS to temporarily vacate the expansion.
Although we had hoped the judge would permanently vacate the program, arguing that DHS has no authority to let foreigners work while on student visas, the judge gave the agency until February 2016 to issue a properly announced rule complete with a notice-and-comment period. If the agency receives enough angry comments from the public, it could fold and pull the new regulation entirely, as the ATF was forced to do last year when it attempted to ban “green-tipped” bullets.
DHS has given the public until November 18 to comment. We’re asking friends and supporters to point out that the agency is neglecting its duty under federal guidance to discuss crucial economic considerations, such as how many OPT workers will be hired instead of American workers; how many STEM grads have given up finding work in the STEM field; how the new rule will affect tech-worker wages and American STEM-grad employment, etc. (see Norm Matloff’s excellent list of potential comments here). Because DHS must respond to each comment, they’ll have to fully explain themselves and fix many of the problems raised. And the longer it takes for them to respond, the more likely they’ll miss the court-appointed deadline. Concerned readers can submit comments here.
#related#Things may be looking grim for the open-borders plutocracy. A left-wing investigative outfit, the Beacon, has just kicked off a crowdfunding initiative to investigate corporate abuse of the H-1B program. We’re also starting to see the rise of civil-rights claims based on “national origin” discrimination against employers who hire foreigners instead of Americans. This was a sight unseen until now. Who would have thought that working Americans would someday become second-class citizens in their own country? With open-borders pushers, there are no limits.
— Ian Smith is an attorney in Washington, D.C., and works for the Immigration Reform Law Institute.