The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is planning greater oversight of colleges and universities that recommend foreign students for work authorization through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

Educational institutions and designated school officials (DSOs) should expect to have greater monitoring, record-keeping and reporting responsibilities in overseeing students working under OPT.

The increased scrutiny follows a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation into the program, prompted in part by response to the Boston Marathon bombings last year, which identified a need for renewed attention on monitoring foreign students. The GAO’s report made the following recommendations to Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

  1. Require foreign students in the OPT program to report their employers’ information to a DSO.
  2. Issue guidance to DSOs on how to determine whether foreign students’ work correlates to their areas of study, and then require that DSOs show how they made such determinations.
  3. Require that foreign students report their start dates and any periods of unemployment.
  4. Clarify the definition of “one full academic year” for purposes of OPT eligibility, to help DSOs and USCIS properly recommend and authorize OPT.
  5. Develop a monitoring system in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to make sure that foreign students are not gaining more OPT than allowed under ICE regulations.

Under a separate initiative, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), a unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), recently trained its first group of field representatives who began making visits last month to schools that enroll foreign students with F or M visas.

OPT allows foreign students on F-1 visas to obtain temporary authorization for work that is directly related to their major fields of study after graduating from an American college or university. Approximately 10 percent of the roughly 1 million foreign students in the U.S. have been approved for OPT.

BAL Analysis: The GAO report, the training of personnel to visit DSOs, and DHS’ promise to integrate the SEVIS database with other border-control systems are all signs that the government plans to enhance thin oversight and enforcement of foreign students’ legal status and work authorization.

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