WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member
of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is demanding clarity and accountability
in the Optional Practical Training program for foreign students studying in
STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. The STEM OPT program,
of which Grassley has long been a critic, was originally designed to address
concerns about alleged skilled worker shortages in the high-tech industry that
might impact American international competitiveness.
the STEM OPT program, foreign students studying at American educational
institutions can qualify for up to three years of employment in the U.S. if
their degree program is on a list of specifically designated and accredited STEM
degree programs maintained and occasionally updated by the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS).
In a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Grassley
raises concerns about a recent trend among universities across the country
attempting to repackage obviously non-STEM degree programs in an attempt to get
those programs on the STEM OPT degree list. Grassley’s
letter also raises questions about the Biden administration’s recent decision
to add 22 new degree programs to the STEM OPT degree list.
“There is no way, under any common-sense
understanding of what fields are considered STEM fields, that degree programs
in economics, business, journalism, anthrozoology, industrial and
organizational psychology – much less drama therapy and classics – should be
considered degrees in STEM fields. Such fields are also certainly not science
and engineering fields in which there is an alleged critical shortage of
workers adversely affecting the international competitiveness of the high-tech
industry,” Grassley wrote, regarding some of the degree programs
repackaged as STEM by various universities or recently added to the STEM OPT
degree list by the Biden administration.
also notes his long-standing concern that the STEM OPT program, “…sets up a de facto
new employment-based visa program for tens of thousands of foreign workers that
serves as a shadow H-1B program, for the same length as the H-1B program, but
without any of the protections for U.S. and foreign workers found in the actual
letter presses DHS for additional information on the adjudication process for
STEM OPT Employment Authorization Documents and how officials regularly handle
assertions that degree programs meet the appropriate criteria.
senator is also seeking information about whether department officials have ever
played any role in the questionable repackaging by some universities of
patently non-STEM degree programs as eligible for STEM OPT and whether the
department agrees with the reclassification of the cited programs, like drama
therapy and journalism.
Grassley asks for data about STEM OPT extensions for the last three years and
specific explanations about the Biden administration’s recent proposal putting
forward 22 new additions to the STEM OPT eligible programs list.
text of Grassley’s letter to Mayorkas can be found HERE