‘Vanished’ Foreigners in U.S. on Student Visas Raise IT Job Concerns

Don Tennant
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The 10 Fast Growing IT Job Markets in the U.S.

According to a report last week by ABC News, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that it has lost track of more than 6,000 foreign nationals who have come to this country on student visas, and who have now “essentially vanished.” In view of the large number of foreign students who come to the United States to study IT-related disciplines, the disclosure raises the question of how many of those former students may be filling IT jobs here.

The ABC News report pointed out that there are more than 9,000 schools on a government-approved list of institutions that can bring foreigners into the United States on student visas. Particularly disturbing is that one of the approved schools is MicroPower Career Institute in New York, which reportedly has four campuses on the approved list, despite the fact that the school’s president and four other top school officials were indicted on charges of visa fraud in May. According to MicroPower’s website, programs offered by the school include computer networking and computerized business accounting.


Vivek Wadhwa, director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, and a vocal advocate of attracting skilled foreign workers to the United States and keeping them here, said in an email exchange last week that the situation reported by ABC News is “truly worrisome.”

“The number of students doing this is, however, small compared to the number of people who enter on student or tourist visas,” Wadhwa said. “But clearly, the system needs to be monitored better, and the sleazy institutes who make visa fraud possible should be shut down—and their leaders sent to jail.”

The ABC News report quoted Rachel Banks, director of public policy for NAFSA, an association of international educators that advocates for more welcoming U.S. immigration policies. According to the report, Banks said NAFSA understands the need to monitor the arrival and departure of foreign nationals, but stressed that foreign students shouldn’t become scapegoats. “Foreign students are an asset and not a threat,” she said.

Global IT

Kim Berry, president of the Programmers Guild, an advocacy group for U.S. computer programmers and other tech workers, took issue with Banks’s statement. In an email exchange last week, Berry said the Programmers Guild disagrees that foreign students are an asset to the United States.

“Once educated in our top schools, they return to their home countries with skills to compete against us—not unlike [a hypothetical situation in which] the U.S. military was training, then returning, soldiers to China and Iran,” Berry said. “If they remain, they undercut U.S. graduates competing for jobs. Because [foreigners who come here on student visas] are ‘Optional Practical Training’ visa workers, U.S. employers are exempt from paying certain benefits to them.”

According to Berry, the University of California, and many other top U.S. universities, are displacing in-state admissions in favor of foreign students, because they pay a higher tuition rate.

“While some tech companies cite a ‘skills shortage,’ a search of the openings reveals that their unfilled opening are for positions requiring years of experience beyond a degree,” Berry added. “There is no shortage of recent American college graduates seeking work.”

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Sep 10, 2014 8:16 AM Adetoye Adetoye  says:
As a former foreign student that is currently working in IT, I find this article very insulting, belittling the effort and hard work foreign students put in to come to the US and get an education. Please enlighten me, how exactly do you get an IT job on an expired student visa? Which company will entrust systems that makes it run to an IT staff with no papers. Don, I recommend you actually do some research before you write stupid articles. Reply
Sep 10, 2014 11:51 AM slayerwulfe slayerwulfe  says:
@Adetoye Hard work, yes ! plus all that goes with being an outsider. "As a former foreign student........?" what is your current designation ? you didn't say. when you are here you are allowed access to all public facilities that the ppl of this country pay for, show respect. you did not say why you came to the U.S. for something instead of where your from. if your not going to be transparent how can you communicate who you are ? slayerwulfe cave Reply
Sep 10, 2014 1:01 PM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to Adetoye
I've been researching this topic for 14 years. If you had done your research, you would know that I have written extensively for years in favor of bringing foreign talent into the United States, and I have consistently lauded foreign students for their hard work and the contributions they make to this country. What I have lost patience with is the ongoing visa fraud. If you're unaware that there are plenty of outfits all over the country that illegally employ foreign IT workers who lack the proper visas, you're uniformed, incredibly naive, or both. Reply
Sep 10, 2014 10:22 PM Fred Fred  says:
I'm not surprised at this at all. Everyone knows the J-1 student visa is the new cheap labour visa for corporations because they already maxed out their H1-B allotments. Reply
Sep 11, 2014 5:03 AM Toni Toni  says:
We have no shortage in this country. We do not need to allow foreign students to remain once they have completed their education. Send them back to their homeland. Perhaps they can use what they learned here to better their own country. These students and all foreign workers need to be sent back to the country from which they came. They are displacing American workers, degrading wages, flooding an already overburdened job market and causing higher paid Americans to become victims of discrimination in their own homeland. It is time to END the visa programs, deport all the guest workers, send all foreign students back to their homeland and remove them from our country once and for all. These programs harm american workers, harm the economy, degrade wages, allow for discrimination against older, higher paid American workers, provide an excess of available resources in an overburdened job market. This is about cheap labor and wage tampering. SEND THEM ALL BACK Reply
Sep 11, 2014 9:04 AM DrGeneNelson DrGeneNelson  says:
There already is a program for truly exceptional foreigners to be admitted to the U.S. - Namely the O-1 Visa program. It is undersubscribed because employer interests apparently favor the indenture provisions of both the H-1B Visa and the OPT extension to the J-1 (student) visa program. Both the H-1B Visa program and the OPT programs are becoming bloated. There were 5,739,014 H-1B Visa admissions between FY 1991 and FY 2010. That value is so large as to exert a downward pressure across all U.S. STEM professions, as the U.S. STEM workforce has a comparable size. There are significant national security risks. Please search by title for the PDF version of "The Greedy Gates Immigration Gambit" which was published in 2014 to learn more. The background for this article was a 2007 article with the same title. Please also review the PDF version of the 2007 article. Thank you Don for including Kim Berry of the Programmer's Guild in your article. Reply
Sep 11, 2014 10:06 AM Adetoye Adetoye  says: in response to slayerwulfe
@slayerwulfe. All you had to do was ask and I will fill in the gaps for you. I worked hard in my country to save up for my education here. I DID NOT get anything for free. I was not allowed to work when I was on student visa. I was monitored constantly by the international students department of my school to ensure that I didn't work. I paid out of state tuition as required by law. Afterwards, I searched for a job like everyone else but had extra hurdles to cross before I could get a job and stay. The company that hired me had to make a case to the government on why they needed me, how I wasn't taking jobs from citizens and how I wasn't being underpaid. That process took years. America has built a great college education system, no doubt. Students will always flock to places where they can get quality education. To insinuate that they get the learning for free or take something away from tax payers is uninformed. Reply
Sep 11, 2014 10:21 AM Adetoye Adetoye  says: in response to slayerwulfe
@Don First let me apologize for calling your article stupid. That was just my frustration boiling over. I have sat on the side lines and listened to these debates over and over again. Foreign students come here to work hard and pay their dues. Illegal foreign IT worker doesn't equate to foreign students. The example you sited is for a fraudulent institution licensed by the US government. Why vilify students for government failing in oversight. You gave no evidence that students brought in by that school went on to take IT jobs illegally. As I have said before, It is almost impossible for a foreign student on expired visa to go get an IT job. Once a student goes out of status, their name, biometric data, contact info shows up on the DHS flagged list. No legitimate company will entrust their IT infrastructure to a flagged individual unless your definition of IT Job is different from mine. Reply
Sep 11, 2014 8:13 PM CSh CSh  says: in response to Adetoye
Weren't many of 9/11 hijackers on student visas at one time? To answer the former foreign students question - I'm certain that there are plenty of body shops that get work and then bring it back a shop staffed with illegal workers. They can pay them little and threaten to call ICE if they complain. ICE needs to just set up shop in Edison, NJ area and make the rounds every so often. It's the mecca of criminality in the IT world. Every other week another of the "best and brightest" is being indicted for some sort of misdeed relating to visa violations. We need to shut down the student visa. The only ones who benefit are everyone but the average American. Reply
Sep 12, 2014 8:20 AM Pole Sitter Pole Sitter  says:
US Citizen with STEM degree? Hello Mickey D: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/387726/dont-give-masters-universe-their-amnesty-jeff-sessions Reply
Sep 13, 2014 5:46 AM Sal Sal  says:
This debate has been going on for years. The shortage question can be answered by looking at the high number of unemployed/under employed IT graduates and seasoned IT professionals. To paraphrase Senator Sessions regarding Facebook's request for more cheap foreign labor - perhaps Zuckerberg should call his friend at Microsoft and ask for a pool of the recent 18 thousand to be fired to help fill a few jobs at Facebook with American labor. Reply
Sep 13, 2014 7:37 PM George Chacko George Chacko  says:
Don - Is there any evidence that these missing foreigners were IT majors? I looked hard for evidence that would point to what they studied in the US. There is none. They could have been English majors or Sociology Majors or Nuclear Physicists. Why then the assumption that these were IT majors? Why does 'IT Business Edge' feel it necessary to speculate about their major and worse still, ask people to weigh in on the hypothetical possibility that some possible IT majors are missing and they could possibly be working in IT jobs. Should we also ask nuclear scientists to weigh in on the possibility that some possible Nuclear Physics majors are missing and could be building a bomb somewhere? If we know that there are 6000 missing then we know who they are and surely it is easy to ascertain if they were IT majors. Before nativist anger foams over can we get some facts please? I'd hate to think that 6000 foreigners that studied classical ballet have vanished and are secretly performing somewhere for cut rate wages. American ballet dancers deserve better. Reply
Sep 13, 2014 7:39 PM Jeremy Jeremy  says:
@Toni - your comment is ridiculous. If someone comes here, is educated here, and is successful enough to graduate in field in high demand here, why on earth would we send them back home? Let them put their brains to good use HERE. The US educational system didn't invest time into them so that they could not give anything back. You say there is "no shortage [of immigrants]" in this country. You are wrong. There is a shortage of immigrants with Bachelor's, Master's, and doctorates in this country. Finally, education in this country is outrageously expensive and federal loans and most scholarships aren't available to foreign students. On the visa application, they have to provide bank statements that they have thousands and thousands of dollars readily available EACH YEAR they stay here. Anyone who could afford to pay 30k a year out of their bank account to come here isn't the typical immigrant anyways. Leave students alone! Reply

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