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A fight brews over U.S. worker protections

Patrick Thibodeau | Dec. 4, 2015
The U.S. has little time to sort out the arguments over federal rule that lets STEM grads work on a student visa.

"Given the already substantial size of the OPT program, and that fact that it is uncapped, the potential for adverse effects is real unless more authentic measures are required to ensure that local candidates (U.S. workers) are given fair consideration for all relevant job opportunities," wrote Shannon Lederer, director of immigration for the AFL-CIO.

As of September, more than 34,000 students were in the United States on a STEM OPT extension, the U.S. reported.

Another potential area of controversy is the employment of OPT workers by staffing firms. The U.S. believes the mentoring and training requirements will make it difficult for temp agencies to comply, effectively excluding them the OPT program.

"They have a business model that facilitates the outsourcing and offshoring of U.S. Stem jobs," wrote Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, and Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University, in a filing on the proposed rule.

Rather than discouraging temp agencies from hiring OPT workers, Costa and Hira, along with the AFL-CIO are urging the government to "explicitly disqualify temporary employment agencies" from using OPT workers.

The business groups aren't rising to the defense of temp agencies, but they are attacking the mentoring rules, its monitoring, training and reporting requirements.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce complained about the extra burden imposed by the mentoring and training program. "A CEO at a small software engineering firm cannot always delegate responsibilities to those underneath him or her," the Chamber wrote in part.

What isn't up for debate is the merit of the the seven-month OPT extension, which the government seems set on finalizing. The initial OPT extension was approved as a way to give students who lose the H-1B visa lottery another opportunity to file for a temporary work visa.

 

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