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GAO review of program for foreign students to work in the U.S. PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Tuesday, 05 June 2012 13:29

WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley has asked the Government Accountability Office to assess the federal government’s management of the Optional Practical Training program, which allows foreign students to temporarily work in the United States in their major area of study for 12 to 29 months after completing their studies.


In a request made today, Grassley said an upward trend in use and little oversight of the program makes necessary an independent review of its effectiveness and security.


Grassley conducts congressional oversight of immigration programs from his position as Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration policy.  The Government Accountability Office is the investigative arm of Congress.


The text of Grassley’s letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro is below.


May 31, 2012


The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro

Comptroller General of the United States

United States Government Accountability Office

441 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20548


Dear Comptroller General Dodaro,


I am writing to you regarding my concerns about the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, a Department of Homeland Security program that was created by regulation without the advice and consent of Congress, to give students an opportunity to learn more about their area of study before having to return to their home country.   Unfortunately, there have been reports of abuse in this program, and concerns have been raised about the lack of controls and oversight by the federal government.  I’m seeking the assistance of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to fully investigate the use of OPT, including who uses it and how students are tracked, determine what weaknesses exist, and suggest ways to improve the procedures and policies that govern its administration.


The importance of an investigation can be illustrated by the large number of students that use the program.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship and Immigration Service approved over 80,000 applications each year between 2006 and 2010.  Combined, USCIS has approved 430,515 applications for OPT within this five-year time frame.  Moreover, the data suggests an upward trend in approved applications.  In fiscal year 2009, almost 91,000 applications for OPT were granted, and in fiscal year 2010, over 95,000 OPT applications were granted.


I am concerned that the Executive branch has not and is not thoroughly vetting the applications from colleges and universities, and that it is rarely denying OPT work authorizations.  According to data provided by the Department of Homeland Security, USCIS has denied very few applications, rejecting, on average, between 2 and 3 percent of applications submitted.


Reports suggest that the OPT program could be full of loopholes with few controls in place to determine if students are actually working, working where they claimed to be, or working in their field of study.  It appears that higher educational institutions ultimately decide if a student should obtain OPT, putting them to work without actually knowing the employer or requiring proof of employment.  I would like to know more about the lines of communication that exist between the various branches within the Department and between the Department and schools who issue OPT to students.


In 2008, the Bush Administration extended the time that immigrant students could stay in the United States under OPT if they had a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).  Just recently on May 11, the Obama Administration announced an expanded list of degree programs that qualify eligible graduates on student visas for an OPT extension.  Some may question whether these degree programs qualify as “STEM” and satisfy the criteria laid out in regulation that limit the program to 1) degrees in a technical field; 2) areas where there is a shortage of qualified, highly-skilled U.S. workers;  and 3) degrees that are essential to this country’s technological innovative competitiveness.


Also, the increased amount of time that one could work in the United States, without wage requirements or American worker protections, may be undermining other visa programs, such as the H-1B visa program.  It may also be disadvantaging American students who are looking for work during these tough economic times.  OPT was meant to be supplementary to one’s studies, not act as a bridge to an H-1B visa or permanent residency.  It should also not be used to allow students to remain in the U.S. until work is available, which creates competition for American students and workers.


In addition to investigating the implementation and oversight of the program, I am interested in the GAO’s perspective on OPT with regard to national security.   It’s difficult to know how many potential terrorists have exploited the OPT program to remain in the United States, but we do know that Faisal Shahzad, a foreign national from Pakistan, used the OPT program prior to attempting to attack citizens in Times Square, New York.  Reports suggest that Shahzad was issued OPT and later applied for an H-1B visa, and eventually citizenship.  It is my understanding that Faisal Shahzad studied general business at the now defunct Southeastern University, and was granted OPT status after claiming employment with a temporary staffing agency.  Using OPT simply to remain in the United States should be a concern to homeland security officials.


Over 14 months ago, the Department of Homeland Security assured me that it was “considering making substantive improvements to the OPT program through future rulemaking, in order to increase Departmental oversight and enhance program integrity.”  I would like to know whether any steps have been taken, whether changes have been effective, and if further improvements are forthcoming.  Furthermore, I would like to know what guidance has been given in the past to colleges and universities with regard to approving OPT, and what restrictions, if any, are placed on the educational institution to verify the request and offer of employment.


Given that employers who employ students who work in the country under OPT status are not subject to wage requirements or other worker protections (which is the case with the H-1B visa program), more insight into the use of this program is warranted.  An investigation would also benefit the homeland security community by assessing the risk posed by students who do not deserve OPT status.


In particular, I would like GAO to address the following questions:


·         What potential risks exist in the OPT program, and is it being administered securely and effectively by the Department of Homeland Security?


·         What measures, if any, has the Department instituted to prevent and detect fraud and abuse in the program, and what steps does the Department take to ensure the success of these measures?


·         What controls has the Department implemented to ensure that educational institutions are complying with OPT requirements, and what actions does the Department take to ensure compliance with these controls?


·         What guidance, if any, does the Department provide to educational institutions regarding their oversight responsibilities in OPT?


·         How do employers identify students in OPT for employment opportunities?


·         What process did the Department undertake when expanding the STEM fields in May 2012 to ensure that it was complying with its own criteria for including new degree programs on the list?


·         Does employment with a temporary staffing agency make a student eligible for OPT, and if so, how is such employment directly related to a student’s area of study?


I appreciate your consideration of this request, and look forward to working with you on this matter.




Charles E. Grassley

Ranking Member

Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Blackhawk Hills Holds Annual Meeting PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - General Info
Written by Julie Jacobs   
Tuesday, 05 June 2012 12:50

ROCK FALLS, IL – BlackhawkHills Resource Conservation and Development held its annual meeting on May 24, 2012 at the Freeport Country Club. The meeting was open to the public and featured Lynn Feaver of Prospering Together as the speaker.

Two awards were presented at the meeting. The 2012 Volunteer of the Year award was presented to Ron Colson, Sam Newton, and William Tonne for their hard work and dedication to the Northwest Illinois Broadband Opportunities Program. The 2012 Carson DeJarnatt Economic Development Award was presented to Prospering Together and was accepted by Lynn Feaver, Chuck Moen, Della Moen, and Sam Newton of Stephenson County.

Blackhawk Hills would like to recognize the following changes to the council. Ron Colson was elected as President. He previously served as Vice President for the past three years. William Tonne accepted the position of Vice President. He previously served as President for the past three years.

About the Volunteer of the Year Award

This award is presented annually to the person or persons who have shown outstanding dedication to a project or initiative within the six-county region. This award has been presented each year since 1976.

About the Carson DeJarnatt Economic Development Award

The Carson DeJarnatt Economic Development Award is given to a person, organization, or initiative that demonstrates commitment to regional economic development. The award’s namesake, Carson DeJarnatt, joined the Blackhawk Hills council as the Whiteside County Board representative in 1987. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Blackhawk Hills’ Economic Development District in 1992. The council of Blackhawk Hills created the economic development award in his honor after his passing in 1995.

About Blackhawk Hills RC&D

Blackhawk Hills RC&D is a not-for-profit corporation based in Rock Falls, IL, that serves Carroll, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, and Whiteside counties in northwest Illinois.  Blackhawk Hills RC&D’s services include community planning, development assistance, natural resources conservation and protection support, and grant writing and administration. Blackhawk Hills RC&D is sponsored by local county boards and Soil and Water Conservation Districts and is overseen by an 18-member council, consisting of three representatives from each of the six counties.

Questions about Blackhawk Hills may be directed to Julie Jacobs at (815) 625-3854 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


News Releases - General Info
Written by Erin Vorac   
Tuesday, 05 June 2012 12:47

DAVENPORT, IA—Waste Commission of Scott County is extending hours on Mondays in June, July and August at the Scott Area Landfill, 11555 110th Avenue, Davenport.

Summer hours for the Scott Area Landfill are:

  • Mondays (June, July and August): 7:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
  • Tuesdays-Fridays: 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
  • Saturdays: 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon

The landfill is located west of Davenport on County Road Y-48, three miles south of Highway 61.

Waste Commission of Scott County is an inter-governmental agency whose mission is to provide environmentally sound and economically feasible solid waste management. For more information about the Commission, please call (563) 381-1300 or visit


Dude, Where’s My Car’s Legal Protection? PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - General Info
Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Tuesday, 05 June 2012 12:41
New Automobile Sharing/Renting Programs a Gamble,
Says Asset Protection Specialist

If parents loan the family car to their child, they can be sued if an accident occurs. The same goes for anyone who loans a car to a friend in need. So, what happens when a third party like RelayRides is involved?

RelayRides is a peer-to-peer car rental or car-sharing service that went nationwide in March this year after launching in Boston in 2010. Many participants loan their cars as a good deed to open up parking along busy urban streets, promote environmentally sound habits or simply to help those in need of a ride. Most, however, opt to rent their vehicles for a variable rate – usually about $10 per hour.

“Every car loaned or rented through the program gets $1 million in liability insurance coverage from RelayRides, but even that may not be enough,” says Hillel L. Presser, a lawyer specializing in asset protection planning and author of Financial Self-Defense (

“When there’s an accident involving serious injuries, the victims simply have no choice but to sue for at least $1 million, and often more. If you rented the car and you have assets, you could become a target.”

Earlier this year, a man who rented a car through the program was killed in an accident while driving the wrong way on a highway, Presser says, citing a New York Times report. Four people in the car he hit were seriously injured.

“Medical expenses are expected to exceed RelayRides’ insurance coverage,” Presser says. “The owner of the car is a part-time Google systems administrator – which means she probably makes good money. Who will pay the overage, and who might be sued, is still yet to be determined.”

In today’s world, lawyers have gotten very creative in what they’ll go after, which is why comprehensive protection of assets is absolutely crucial, he says.

Presser offers the following tips:

• Account for ALL of your assets: Not sure of what you have? Don’t wait for a plaintiff’s lawyer to tell you exactly what that is before he or she takes it from you. Take stock of valuable domain names, telephone numbers, intellectual property, potential inheritances, and other non-liquid assets.

• Liability insurance is no guarantee: Buy as much insurance as you can; it’s cheap and it helps you sleep at night. But realize that 70 percent of claims will not be covered. Your coverage may be inadequate for a particular suit, and your insurance company may go bankrupt. Having insurance and an asset protection plan is the belt-and-suspenders approach for hanging onto your pants.

• Convert non-exempt assets into exempt assets: State laws protect some personal assets from lawsuits and creditors. Those assets typically include your primary residence; personal items such as furniture and clothing; pensions and retirement funds; and life insurance. Find out the exemptions for your state and convert non-exempt assets, such as cash, into exempt assets, such as life insurance.

• Transfer your assets to a protective entity: The key to asset protection is to own nothing while controlling everything. Transfer any non-exempt assets out of your name to protective entities such as trusts, limited liability companies, limited partnerships and others.

• Don’t loan out your car – even to your kid: If your children are going to drive, they should drive cars titled in their name alone. And if they pay for the cars themselves, you add another layer of protection. Courts may find that parents who are obviously paying for their children’s cars liable to some degree, even if the car title is in the child’s name.

“While everyone can take well-informed steps to further protect their wealth, there is no substitute for having an experienced legal professional review an estate – all of it,” Presser says.

About Hillel L. Presser

Hillel L. Presser’s firm, The Presser Law Firm, P.A., represents individuals and businesses in establishing comprehensive asset protection plans. He is a graduate of Syracuse University’s School of Management and Nova Southeastern University’s law school, and serves on Nova’s President’s Advisory Council. He also serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations for his professional athlete clients. He is a former adjunct faculty member for law at Lynn University. Free copies of Financial Self-Defense are available through

Bills to Protect Premium Cigars Continue to Gain Support PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Kyle Whalen   
Monday, 04 June 2012 15:17

Washington, DC-As the Representatives and Senators settle into session, two bills (H.R. 1639 & S. 1461) continue to gain support. H.R. 1639 has just reached 190 co-sponsors, nearing the 218 co-sponsors needed for the majority. S. 1461 has reached 10 co-sponsors with Senator Ben Nelson from Nebraska supporting it most recently.

The bills seek to restrict the FDA from regulating the premium cigar industry as it wishes to do to other tobacco products.

With the FDA’s proposed new jurisdiction, they would have the ability to completely alter the way premium cigars are sold, even going as far as having the ability to take the word “cigar” out of advertisements. These two bills seek to limit that. Supported by the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR), Cigar Rights of America, small tobacco shops throughout the country, and tobacco enthusiasts, the bills seek to protect the cigar industry from the FDA’s potentially heavy-handed regulation.

The bills have come a long way, but are still in need of support. The IPCPR encourages any tobacco enthusiasts to contact their local legislators and discuss with them the importance of small tobacconists throughout this country and the negative impact that FDA regulation could have on their businesses.

Bill Spann, CEO of the IPCPR, noted, “The premium cigar industry employs over 85,000 Americans alone. In today's economy, our representative form of government should be doing everything possible to protect small businesses and promote job growth, not trying to regulate it out of existence.”

As the bills continue to gain support, cigar enthusiasts everywhere hope that the legislators will hear their voices and discuss the bills during session this year, which is expected to close in December.

This article was written by Kyle Whalen. Kyle is the Public Relations Manager for the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . More information can be found online at

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