U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has completed assessment of Optional Practical Training (OPT) – related practices and identified potential risks and noncompliance with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regulations.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has not identified or assessed fraud or noncompliance risks posed by schools that recommend and foreign students approved for optional practical training (OPT), in accordance with DHS risk management guidance. ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) officials consider OPT to be a low-risk employment benefit for foreign students because, in part, they believe foreign students approved for OPT do not have an incentive to jeopardize their legal status in the United States. However, SEVP has not determined potential risks in OPT. Further, officials from the Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU), ICE’s investigative unit, and ICE field agents GAO interviewed have identified potential risks involving OPT based on prior and ongoing investigations. For example, ICE field agents identified cases where school officials recommended OPT for foreign students to work outside of their major areas of study, which is not allowed under ICE regulations. In response to a June 2012 GAO recommendation, ICE has taken initial actions to identify risks across SEVP-certified schools but has not identified and assessed OPT risks or determined the extent to which potential OPT risks will be part of its efforts to assess risks SEVP-wide. Further, SEVP has not coordinated with CTCEU, including obtaining and assessing information from CTCEU and ICE field offices regarding OPT risks, as part of its efforts. Identifying and assessing OPT risks, in coordination with CTCEU, could better position SEVP to manage risks in OPT.

GAO recommends that ICE, among other things, identify and assess OPT-related risks and require additional employment information from students and schools. DHS concurred with the recommendations.

The full text of the assessment can be found on GAO’s website.

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