Column | Visa overstays problematic for U.S. tech workers
The Department of Homeland Security’s recently released Entry/Exit Overstay Report on visa overstays found that more than 700,000 foreign nationals didn’t honor the terms of their temporary authorization to work or visit in the United States. Analyzed in depth, DHS found that among the overstays, India had 21,000, the largest number. Some of the 21,000 eventually returned home, but after their assigned departure date.
In 2017, DHS said 127,435 Indian students and researchers entered the U.S. on F, J and M visas. Of these, 4,400 Indians overstayed. Figures indicated that 1,567 Indians left the U.S. later on, while 2,833 remain in the U.S.
For nonimmigrants who entered on a student or exchange visitor visa, DHS determined that there were 1,662,369 total F, J or M visa holders scheduled to complete their U.S. study programs. However, 4.15 percent stayed beyond the authorized departure date when their program ended. For India, the rate was 3.4 percent, below the national average.
The DHS data raises troubling questions about the number of student visas issued and the disregard some have for adhering to their visas’ terms. Visas routinely morph into jobs, specifically in the tech industry, that often displace American workers. Foreign nationals currently enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions with F or M visas total more than 1 million. India ranks second behind China in enrollment from overseas, 211,703 versus 377,070.
Significantly, 48 percent of international students were in science, technology, engineering and math, the STEM fields, and eligible for the Optional Practical Training after their graduation. Now available for STEM graduates for up to 36 months, OPT originally had timeframes of 12, and then 17, months.
Employers use the F-1/OPT program to circumvent the congressionally established 85,000 H-1B visa cap. The Pew Research Center confirms that OPT is an employer bonanza. Between 2008 and 2016, OPT grew 400 percent, and either displaced American workers or forced them to compete for new jobs with overseas workers.
Little wonder that OPT is so popular with overseas students and domestic employers. Students look for an employer willing to offer an OPT job, gain a STEM extension, then an H-1B sponsorship which in turn creates a green card opportunity, and ultimately U.S. citizenship. Citizenship is a long way from the original temporary F visa with the understanding that students will return home upon coursework completion, and apply what was learned in the U.S. to improve their native countries. Employers, for their part, benefit from cheaper labor.
H-1B, M and F visas are harmful to U.S. students, workers and prospective employees. Overseas students compete with Americans for a fixed number of college enrollment slots; the employment-based H-1B visa creates head-to-head job competition of foreign nationals versus Americans, and OPT, never congressionally approved, extends visa holders’ work permission stays in the U.S.
Congress should view tech issues through the American workers’ eyes. The annual inflow of guest workers is equal to about half of all tech hires each year at a time when U.S. colleges are graduating plenty of STEM workers.
In his congressional testimony, Rutgers University Professor Hal Salzman summed up the reality. Said Salzman: “The U.S. supply of top performing graduates is large and far exceeds the hiring needs of the STEM industries, with only half of new STEM graduates finding jobs in a STEM occupation, and only a third of all STEM graduates in the workforce holding a STEM job.”
Congress must protect Americans against job loss and displacement that unnecessary visas and irresponsible immigration programs like OPT create.