Nov 13, 2014 - 10:00am

How the Economic Policy Institute Got Student and Specialized Knowledge Visas Wrong


Former Executive Director, Immigration Policy

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Naturalization Oath of Allegiance, American Flag
Naturalization Oath of Allegiance, American Flag

It’s understandable that the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) wants to push its own agenda, but putting forward misleading information isn’t the way to go.  EPI's recent article on why the L-1 visa and F-1 post-completion optional practical training (OPT) should be limited is full of incomplete, and outdated, references.

As John Adams said  in 1770, “facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  We needed to rely on, and focus on, the facts to solve difficult problems.

That’s why it is so disappointing that EPI rallies around immigration positions not grounded in the facts.

EPI may not like the regulations around the F-1 students on OPT but it is certainly not an “unregulated” program.  Instead, foreign students and exchange visitors are the only foreign nationals entering the United States that are actually subject to real-time tracking of visa issuance, entry, maintenance of status, and exit with interoperability between the Departments of Homeland Security and State, and with access by various constituent components of DHS including enforcement arms. 

Since Congress created the F-1 student visa in 1952 to codify the ability of foreign nationals to study in the United States, immigration agencies have always recognized that part of pursuing a course of study in this country includes the opportunity to receive practical experience in the student’s field after graduation, so as to become familiar with American business or research practices.  It is at best disingenuous for EPI to suggest that legality of this common sense agency interpretation that has been unchallenged for 60 years is somehow now “questionable.”  Moreover, EPI makes this leap by discussing a pilot program that related to a completely different concept:  In 1990 Congress asked legacy INS to explore whether F-1 students should be given unrestricted work authorization while earning their degrees.  INS reported back a resounding “no,” but this has nothing to do with post-completion OPT. 

For those of you (90% of America) not well-versed in immigration law, L-1 visas are used for transferring workers with managerial, executive, or specialized skills from international offices to U.S. offices within a company.  While it may be that some large IT consulting firms use the L-1 visa category, the industries that rely on the L-1 visa to bring over computer and information systems managers and professionals include:  biorefining; heavy equipment manufacturing; chemicals; precision controls; aircraft manufacturing; hotels and hospitality; automotive parts; packaging; food products; oil and gas; and auto manufacturing. 

In fact, a wide swath of industries have been burdened over the last several years  in their ability to predictably transfer their staff with specialized or advanced knowledge into the United States to continue work on products, services, and projects.  The appropriate use of L-1B visas by careful and responsible employers across the economy plays a direct role in supporting job creation and job retention for many American workers.  Delays and lack of consistency in the processing of these visas undermines these efforts – to the detriment of the American economy and American workers.  The request for some relief in this regard – to bring certainty and reliability to agency decision-making – is broad-based and not driven by any narrow set of companies or types of operations, contrary to the inferences by EPI.

Global companies need tools to dependably manage their organization’s internal human capital in order to create and retain jobs here in the United States.  It’s that simple.

EPI’s reference to layoffs a decade ago (2003) where American workers were allegedly replaced with L-1 contract consultants, is a canard since Congress held hearings on this and passed legislation addressing this in 2004.  The L-1 Reform Act of 2004 requires all petitioning employers to confirm whether the L-1 worker is a consultant providing services at a client location and if so to document that the sponsoring employer is not merely providing labor for hire and is directing and controlling the work of the L-1 visa holder.
Couching your arguments in terms of old, partial, and out-of-context information is not the way to debate immigration reform issues.

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About the Author

About the Author

Amy Nice
Former Executive Director, Immigration Policy

Amy M. Nice joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in December 2010 and served as the organization’s executive director of immigration policy.