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New Delhi: A US lawmaker has asked for an investigation into a programme that allows foreign students to work in that country after graduating.

On Thursday, in a letter to US comptroller of the government accountability office, member of Senate Charles Grassley raised concerns over potential abuses of the optional practical training programme, which allows foreign students studying at US universities to get work experience in their field after they graduate.

Between 2006 and 2010, more than 430,515 applications for OPT were granted by the US citizenship and immigration services to overseas students and recent graduates.

“Reports suggest that the OPT programme 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," Grassley wrote in his letter.

India represents one of the top sources of foreign students in the US at 104,000, second only to China, according to a 2010-11 report by the Institute of International Education. Of these, 61% are graduate students, many of whom use OPT to gain work experience.

Concerns about abuse of student F1 visas and OPT made US headlines last January when California-based Tri-Valley University, an unaccredited institute whose students were largely Indian, was raided by immigration authorities for alleged immigration fraud.

Tri-Valley was accused of running an immigration racket in which they took money from students in exchange for securing F1 and OPT permission, which students used to work full time. Federal officials forced Indian students of Tri-Valley to wear radio-tracking devices on their ankles to monitor their movements—a move that raised outrage back home.

Similar concerns about the abuse of student work programmes were raised in the UK last year, prompting legislation that made changes to visa rules, restricting foreign students’ ability to work in the country after graduation. The move has been flagged by experts as one reason behind the recent dip in student migration from India to the UK, and a subsequent surge in student migration to Australia.

Grassley’s letter comes at a time when the US is grappling with how to tackle comprehensive immigration reform in the run-up to the presidential elections.

malia.p@livemint.com

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