Bad OPTics: Time’s Up for Foreign Training Subsidies

The Trump administration is moving to rein in a program that benefits foreign students at the expense of American workers and taxpayers.

Optional Practical Training – which FAIR called “out of control” back in 2014 – is only getting worse.

Foreign students are generally exempt from Social Security and Medicare withholding requirements. Accordingly, in fiscal 2017, OPT diverted $1.98 billion that would have been paid into Social Security, Medicare and Unemployment Insurance trust funds. That provided job subsidies for 240,000 alien college students and graduates. The 240,000 figure represents nearly a 10-fold increase in 10 years.

Naturally, U.S. universities and bottom-feeding employers love OPT. Schools get more foreign tuition revenue and businesses get subsidized labor with an 8.25 percent federal tax break (effectively a $10,000-$15,000 discount on each hire).

So what do American workers get out of this program, launched without congressional authorization in 1953, and subsequently expanded by George W. Bush and by Barack Obama?

Nothing. (Other than an ongoing influx of inexperienced foreign students who compete with recent American graduates for entry-level jobs.)

Though OPT employment is technically capped at two years, participants are eligible for H-1B visas to extend their time in the U.S. That, in turn, opens to the door to permanent residency via a green card.

The Trump administration wants to curb the abuses and level the playing field for American workers.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is drafting rules to curtail on-the-job training opportunities for alien students. The State Department wants to require alien students to return home for two years before changing their immigration status or transferring to another type of visa in the United States, a requirement that already applies to many foreign students who attended school on a J-1 visa.

These moves come as the administration’s tighter immigration policies reduced F-1 student visas 17 percent in the past year.

In their 2016 book, “Sold Out,” Michelle Malkin and John Miano challenged the conventional wisdom that America needs an ever-increasing infusion of foreigners to fill jobs in the tech sector and related fields. They found 1.34 qualified U.S. workers for every one position where a company intended to hire a foreign worker.

Meanwhile, Rutgers University professor Hal Salzman told a Senate Judiciary Committee panel that U.S. universities “graduate twice the number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates as can find a job each year in the STEM workforce.”

Reasonable OPT reforms are reflexively opposed by Ivory Tower globalists whose contempt for native-born Americans knows no borders. Last month, Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber glibly declared, “America’s leadership depends on immigration to grow the economy, create jobs and make the country more globally competitive.”

Gaming the immigration system to benefit aliens, while costing Americans billions, is no way to protect American jobs. Finally, we have a president who seems ready to make America great again for U.S. workers, rather than foreign students.

About Author


Bob Dane, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)’s Executive Director, has been with FAIR since 2006. His deep belief is that immigration is the most transformational determinant of where we are heading as a nation and that our policies must be reformed in the public interest. Over many years on thousands of radio, TV and print interviews, Bob has made the case that unless immigration is regulated and sensibly reduced, it will be difficult for America to reduce unemployment, increase wages, improve health care and education and heighten national security. Prior to joining FAIR, Bob spent twenty years in network radio, marketing and communications after an earlier career in policy and budgeting within the Reagan Administration. Bob has a degree from George Mason University in Public Administration and Management.


  1. avatar
    Karen J Bell on

    As far as I’m concerned illegals can come here to go to school & pay for it themselves. & then leave on graduation. No work at any time. Give our young people a chance.

  2. avatar

    China is using students at our universities to steal our technology and build up their military which is designed to fight the US military.

    Students from China should be kicked out of our universities. Why should American taxpayers subsidize China’s theft of our technology?

  3. avatar

    A few days ago George W. Bush made a comment that Trump was making him “look good”. So says the guy who got a presidential daily briefing a month before 9-11 entitled Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US and did nothing about it, as the 9-11 Commission pointed out. He then used phony intelligence reports that Iraq had WMD to invade and we have troops there 15 years later.

    The Bushes are mad because the GOP primary voters failed to go along with their open borders agenda and nominate Jeb, who flamed out spectacularly like his pro mass immigration pal Lindsey Graham.

  4. avatar

    What is OSADI and Medicare matching in the first place? Is it a mandatory benefit offered to the employee? I would consider the answer yes. Then, if so, where is your business that foreign nationals lose this benefit? Ultimately, it’s their suffering to lose this benefit bestowed to them. The solution also is very simple: make foreign students eligible for Medicare and OASDI if they are required to contribute. You cannot only take and not give. Period.

    • avatar

      The foreign workers get a foothold in this country, gladly, at the expense of American workers. The companies get a huge financial break because they do not have to match the tax contributions that American workers would make. That’s the point. There are obviously qualified Americans because as pointed out above, of every two American STEM graduates, only one can find a job in a STEM field.

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  6. avatar
    George J. white on

    Fair should start fight against unskilled cheap labor and direct h-1bs who came from foreign countries on h1 visas directly at throw away salaries. International students educated in top US universities are the kind of people US should stop driving away. But on the ground republicans and democrats like wise support cheap illegal immigrants and cheap labor in form of h-1b h2 visas. every year 100s of highly skilled intellectuals educated at MIT Harvard Stanford yale princeton Berkeley Penn cornell carnegie etc who have great innovation and technological ideas are leaving US. Already US has lost same outstanding entrepreneurs who have added trillions of USD in form of innovation unicorns in china, india and other countries. Time to fight against illegals and cheap labor not those educated at top univs who will keep America world leader which is already fighting hard not to lose its position to china in near future.

  7. avatar

    At a minimum, EMPLOYERS ought to be paying their share of the Social Security tax, even if the ‘temporary’ foreigner is exempt. Secondly, foreigners were allowed to attend US colleges so that they would have the skills necessary to improve THEIR own countries, not take jobs from American citizens. Indians and others need to go HOME and try to lift the living conditions of their Hell-Hole countries, not bring in a bride from India with her dowry! For many Indian males, that’s the real racket in the H1-B program. US residency makes them a valuable commodity on the Indian dowry market. We shouldn’t be encouraging such backward social practices, even inadvertently.

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