A little-known federal program is giving foreign-born workers a leg up on American citizens right out of college. The "Optional Practical Training" (OPT) program is a small part of the federal government's guest worker program. OPT provides work permits to foreign-born college graduates for up to three years, and also gives tax breaks to companies that hire those foreign workers over American college grads.
The program also provides added incentives for foreign graduates who are educated in certain fields. "OPT works for all (foreign-born) college graduates for one year, and for all alien college graduates for three years if they happen to be in science, engineering, technology, or math," says David North with the Center for Immigration Studies. And apparently those incentives are working, as the program has steadily grown over the past eight years, according to a Breitbart report. The number of foreign students entering the OPT program grew from about 91,000 in 2009 to nearly 330,000 in 2016.
That flood of new work-permitted foreign workers is finding companies eager to hire them over Americans, thanks to the tax breaks. "The government allows the employer not to pay payroll taxes when they hire the foreign candidate, taxes they would normally have to pay if hiring the American candidate," says North. "It's a discount on labor, it's deplorable and the government shouldn't be doing it, and it's grown very quietly over the years."
While the OPT program grew rapidly under the Obama Administration, the Trump Administration has a chance to rein it in or end the program altogether, something North hopes will happen. "Going forward, perhaps the administration will change this, which it can do without the consent of Congress," he says. "So the Congress can fix it, or the administration can fix it...either one."