Last Friday, March 7, 2014, the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) produced a report listing five recommended actions “to better ensure DSOs’ and students’ compliance with OPT requirements, and strengthen efforts to identify and assess potential risks in OPT.” This report is expected to change current procedures and cause Optional Practical Training tightening for international students, DSOs, and ICE officers.
This report came as a response to a letter from Senator Charles Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee from Iowa, which asked the GAO to investigate the use of OPT as “OPT is vulnerable to abuse.” In his letter back in May of 2012, he wanted “to fully investigate the use of OPT, including who uses it and how students are tracked, determine what weaknesses exist, and suggest ways to improve the procedures and policies that govern its administration.”
OPT Report Findings:
The report found that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not maintain complete records on OPT students as they are required by existing regulations. The analysis found that of the 126,000 records of OPT students, 38% did not have an employer’s name. Many of these records did not contain when students started their employment period.
After their analysis, the report recommended these five findings:
- DSOs should be required to record the students’ employer information for pre-completion and 12-month post-completion OPT students in SEVIS
- ICE should provide guidance to DSOs on how to determine whether a job is related to a student’s area of study and record how this was verified in SEVIS
- DSOs should be required to record initial date of employment and any periods of unemployment in SEVIS
- ICE should provide guidance to DSOs and USCIS on how much time constitutes 1 full academic year for the purposes of recommending and authorizing OPT
- Develop SEVIS monitoring system to determine if students accrue more OPT than allowed by ICE regulations
OPT allows international students to gain temporary work experience in their field after completing their academic program. Last year, only 10% of international students were approved to participate in OPT, a fraction of all the foreign students in the United States. At the same time, the number of foreign students that participate in OPT has more than quadrupled in the last six years.
It is expected that we will get more information on changing regulations in the near future on how OPT is recorded in SEVIS and new oversight measures.
In response to this report, Senator Grassley stated, “Foreign students, sometimes aided by school officials, are currently abusing the Optional Practical Training program to acquire unauthorized employment in the United States.”