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Job ad for student visa stirs debate

Patrick Thibodeau | Oct. 3, 2012
Monday marked the start of the 2013 federal fiscal year, and with it the release of a new batch of H-1B visas. But a job ad by IBM India has

"Building skills in a mature market like the U.S. allows them to hit the ground running in India," Shelton said.

Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and high-skill immigration issues, said the policy rationale for extending the OPT to 29 months was to help bridge STEM graduates to H-1B cards.

"The worry was that the H-1B was capped out and some foreign graduates of U.S. universities weren't able to stay," said Hira. The ad makes a mockery of that rationale, he said.

Hira said the job ad illustrates "how leading technology companies are exploiting the obviously huge loopholes," and he believes that federal agencies, as well as Congress, should investigate how the OPT program is actually being used.

"There are absolutely no workforce protections for foreign or American workers with the OPT program. Foreign workers can be paid home country wages -- typically $7,000 per year for an Indian software engineer -- for doing work in the U.S.," said Hira. "And the company can legally displace American workers with workers on OPTs."

Shelton said that IBM is doing what the OPT program set out to accomplish: to provide training for the graduate before that person departs the United States after the studies are completed.

"In that context, hiring individuals on OPT to complete the training here and then have them return to their country, to work, is consistent with the regulatory intent," said Shelton.

Dan Costa, an immigration policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, said an important question is whether the job in the IBM ad could go to a U.S. worker or not. There is no way to check because there's no government review, he said.

But in general, Costa said that "if an OPT stays and works for almost two-and a-half-years, to me that suggests they're working at a permanent job, and not a brief internship or traineeship."

Jobs that are 29-months in length aren't temporary, said Costa. According to government data, the median employee tenure for workers age 25 to 34 is now 3.2 years, said Costa. "An OPT worker can get pretty close to that," he said.



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