Statement of Harrisburg University Concerning Operation OPTical Illusion

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology (HU) takes seriously its obligation to comply with federal immigration law regarding its international students who attend HU under an F-1 visa. With an F-1 visa, international students who desire to obtain an undergraduate or graduate degree in the United States can enroll in any school authorized by the United States government. HU is an authorized institution. 

As part of an international student’s academic experience, he or she may participate in Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. One important benefit of OPT is that it allows students to get real-world work experience related to their field of study.  Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization. If a student has earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, he or she may apply for a 24-month extension of employment authorization under STEM OPT.  Over the past several years, in any given semester, the percentage of F-1 students attending HU participating in OPT and STEM OPT ranges between 4 – 8% of the total student enrollment. 

On October 21, 2020, a press release from the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) announced preliminary results from Operation OPTical Illusion, a law enforcement initiative that targeted nonimmigrant students who fraudulently used OPT program to remain in the United States.  Harrisburg University supports enforcement actions taken to identify and reduce fraudulent actors.  Presently, we have no knowledge that this enforcement activity involved any Harrisburg University students,

HU in no way supports or condones fraudulent practices by any student. However, even when complying with all of its obligations under federal law in the OPT/OPT STEM process, HU has limited knowledge of the circumstances of each student’s OPT and must rely on the representations made by the student in his or her application. Before HU recommends that a student be granted an OPT/STEM OPT extension, it must confirm that the student’s application form is completed, signed, and that it addresses all program requirements. 

The primary assessment by HU of any OPT/OPT STEM application is focused on evaluating whether the employment, as represented by the student, falls within their academic area of study. HU is not required by federal law to conduct extensive outside research into the details of a particular employer prior to making an OPT/STEM OPT recommendation and is also not expected to possess technical knowledge of all STEM fields of study. However, HU personnel will seek additional clarification from a student if an employer or a proposed employment activity is unknown or unclear in order to verify that proposed employment does relate to the student’s program of study. The OPT/OPT STEM system is rooted in the presumption that a student will accurately and honestly file the required application form and that HU will confirm that the employment opportunity, as represented by the student, directly relates to the student’s field of study.

Consequently, the role of HU in the OPT/OPT STEM process is limited to ensuring that the necessary paperwork has been filed and that the employment opportunity relates to the student’s field of study. Confirmation of the accuracy or representations of each OPT/OPT STEM application by a student is not required by federal law of any college or university. It has been HU’s experience that the vast majority of F-1 students participating in OPT/OPT STEM are honest, hard-working students interested in further career advancement related to their field of study.