In all, more than 220,000 overseas nationals are in Optional Practical Training programmes, but DHS says cases in question involve fraud

Trump administration has been cracking down on international students, citing concerns over foreign influence, especially from Chin

More than 1,100 Optional Practical Training work permits will either be revoked or not renewed over the next few months following a crackdown on the programme, the Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday.

USCIS sent 700 letters to OPT recipients this week to alert them that their permits will be revoked. The permits of another 400 international students will not be renewed when they expire over the next few months. The permits allow international students to work in their field of study while in the US on a student visa.

In all, more than 220,000 international students are in OPT programmes, but DHS said the 1,100 in question involve fraud. The fraud could involve working in a position that does not relate to a student’s field of study, officials said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement also said on Wednesday that it arrested “15 non-immigrant students who claimed to be employed by companies that don’t exist”.

The announcements come as part of DHS and ICE’s “Operation OPTtical illusion.” Top department officials say their enforcement effort, which began in January, is “targeting non-immigrant students who fraudulently use the Optional Practical Training Programme” and “OPT employers that were engaging allegedly in fraud”.

At a press briefing, DHS acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli linked the crackdown to job losses from the economic downturn brought on by Covid-19 and said the programme “effectively competes with potential American workers”. By revoking the visas, Cuccinelli said it would “open up those jobs for American workers”.

“Every one of those fraudulently gained work permits does take a job from an American,” he said. “And that is something that we in the department, at the insistence of the president, are determined to fix.”

OPT is a key driver of overall international student enrolment in the United States. In 2018-2019, the United States saw slim gains in the total number of foreign college students enrolling in US academic programmes. The small overall enrolment bump was attributed to OPT.

The Trump administration has been cracking down on OPT and international students as administration officials say they are trying to combat foreign influence, especially from China. The administration has raised concerns that the Chinese government is using its students to steal research and intellectual property.

Last month, the Trump administration revoked the visas of more than 1,000 Chinese scholars, targeting “high risk” graduate students and researchers, according to the State Department.

The Trump administration is also moving to impose two- and four-year limits on visas for international students. Those students can now stay in the county for the duration of their programmes. The comment period for proposed change closes on Monday.

Cuccinelli said the target is not just these international students. He warned that “there‘ll be consequences within some of these universities as well”.

Schools have designated officials that sign off on the work placement of their students in OPT, he said, adding that they have engaged in “a wilful ignorance or a level of negligence” and “we fully expect to be terminating a fair number of these school officials”.

“These are university employees, part of whose job or entirely whose job, is to manage their population of foreign national students,” he said.

“They are not fulfilling their obligation to the US government and the American people, and that‘s been made clear here. We will not tolerate that under a Trump administration.”

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