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Universities to White House: Save the OPT Student-to-Worker Program

A group of university associations is asking a former Microsoft executive in the White House to help preserve a very lucrative student-to-worker program that was created at the request of Microsoft.

“We understand that the administration is reviewing the OPT [Optional Practical Training] program as it examines additional actions following the April 22 executive order, says the May 19 letter to Chris Liddell, whose understated titled is “Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff, Policy Coordination.”

“We would welcome the opportunity to continue the discussion with you and others in the administration about the importance of international students and their positive effect on the U.S. economy,” says the letter, which was posted by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Liddell worked as senior vice president and the Chief Financial Officer at Microsoft from 2005 to December 2009.

“He’s in the White House? Oh God,” responded immigration lawyer John Miano after being told of the letter to Liddell.

While Liddell was working for Microsoft, his company’s lobbyists persuaded President George W. Bush’s deputies to dramatically expand the OPT program, Miano said.

The program’s claimed benefits — such as its delivery of foreign workers for U.S. jobs — is a political issue in the 2020 election when millions of swing-voting American graduates face unemployment amid the economic crash caused by China’s coronavirus. On April 22, Trump ordered a review of the visa worker programs which provide U.S. companies with an army of at least 1.3 million foreign white-collar guest workers.

Miano is working at the Immigration Reform Law Institute from where he has run a 12-year, three-appeal marathon lawsuit against the OPT program. “Microsoft was a leader in transforming OPT into a guest-worker program,” Miano said, adding:

It had originally been a year-long internship kind of thing, and it was under the radar. In 2007, Microsoft threw a dinner party with several other tech companies for [DHS chief Michael] Chertoff at the [owner’s] home of the Washington Nationals where they proposed to expand it so it would be long enough to serve as an alternative to H-1B.
After that, DHS worked in secrecy with these tech companies and the universities to create the regulations. They didn’t tell anyone. They didn’t tell the public they were working on the regulations, and then they put the regulations out without notice and comment. That’s how OPT was created — government by dinner party.

In 2018, the OPT and the associated Curricular Practical Training (CPT) programs delivered at least 500,000 cheap OPT and CPT workers to companies, up from almost 100,000 in 2007, according to agency data. In comparison, roughly 800,000 Americans graduated from four-year colleges with technology degrees in 2018.

Liddell also worked as a top staffer in Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign.
Miano said his 12-year lawsuit against the OPT program might be decided in September. The judge is likely waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) case, he said.

The pending DACA decision may change the OPT decision because Chief Justice John Roberts asked about President Barack Obama’s claimed authority to grant work permits to the DACA migrants. Obama’s claim relied on an interpretation of a section of law titled 1324a, which is also used to justify the OPT program.
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