The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that it will soon launch a new ICE unit to investigate employment compliance in Optional Practical Training (OPT) programmes.
In a statement, the DHS said that it should take bold action that OPT programmes function in a manner that they do not harm US workers of international student employees.
OPT is an extension of a US student visa that lets a graduate work in a related area of study for a total of 12 months or longer if they hold a degree in one of the STEM fields.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) says that currently, it does not know the impact of OPT on US workers or foreign student employees working in the US.
The DHS also said that ICE has discussed strategies with subject matter experts at the US Citizen and Immigration Services and US Department of Labor in order to fulfil regulatory requirements of SEVP.
The duties, hours and compensation of an international student who participates in a two-year OPT extension must be in line with the terms and conditions of US workers of the employer.
The compliance unit that is to be launched will be entirely dedicated to compliance matters dealing with hours, wages, and compensation with OPT, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and the OPT extension, the DHS stated.
The unit will release a report every year based on its compliance findings, which will include details such as compensation, hours, duties of OPT workers. The first report will be published on July 31, 2021. Along with an annual report, the unit will also recommend investigations of students and employers, as demanded, to Homeland Security Investigations, to ensure that OPT programmes function lawfully.
The statement further said that the unit will identify proofs for unlawful practices and let appropriate authorities know about the same.
OPT has been in the news since 2020. In May 2020, four senators wrote to Donald Trump asking him to suspend granting visas to guest workers, including students on the programme until one year or until national unemployment figures in the US returned to normal.
Some also argued that students should seek jobs that would otherwise be taken by unemployed US workers after the Covid-19 pandemic ends.
These efforts were, however, met with resistance from 21 members of the Congress standing in support of OPT. They argued that it helps attract, educate and engage with the best students from across the world.
The statement also mentioned that it is during these challenging times that makes this work particularly necessary.