Obama Courts Immigrants in Science, Technology and Engineering Fields

USCIS Makes It Easier for Talented Students, Workers To Stay in the U.S.

President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy during a nationally televised address from the White House, Nov. 20, 2014. Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

With comprehensive immigration reform bills stalled in Congress, President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have turned to administrative rule changes to reform the nation’s immigration policy to allow for more highly skilled professionals to work in the United States.

Immigrants who are skilled in the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) have become a priority.

They were even the impetus for the bipartisan Senate bill the Immigration Innovation Act of 2015. That’s because for years, U.S. businesses have complained that they cannot find enough highly skilled workers in the technical fields. When companies do find such professionals, they are often foreign workers who are too often lost because of immigration restrictions and bureaucratic red tape. Many talented students in the STEM fields are forced to leave the United States after attending college, which deprives the country of their entrepreneurial and intellectual contributions.

The Obama administration has tried to solve this problem by changing rules that affect thousands of skilled immigrants. Below are seven rule changes immigration officials announced in 2012 to attract and retain  immigrants in the STEM fields:

Expand the eligibility for optional practical training programs

The federal government will allow immigrants in the U.S. on student visas to obtain a 17-month extension for practical training after graduating with STEM degrees.

Optional practical training (OPT) is a period during which foreign student with F-1 visa status may work in the U.S. in their given field without having to acquire an H-1B work visa. It is also a way for talented young students to get real experience in the U.S. workforce without having to worry about the red tape involved in visas and green cards.

The Homeland Security Department is open to reviewing emerging fields of study for possible inclusion in STEM degree programs.

Allow spouses of F-1 students more study options

This regulatory reform would permit the spouses of foreign students to take additional academic classes on a part-time basis while their spouses are studying full-time. Schools would also be allowed increased flexibility to staff their programs for foreign students and their spouses.

Authorize work for spouses of some H-1B visa holders

Specifically, employment is authorized for H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders who have begun the process of seeking lawful permanent residence status through their employment. The idea is to keep families with budding careers together and working in the United States.

The government believes this initiative will help companies retain talented professionals and allow them to contribute to the U.S. economy.

Make it easier for professors and researchers to document their achievements

This change would expand the types of evidence the government requires employers to submit to prove that prospective foreign employees are outstanding in their fields. DHS is willing to accept a wider range of documentation in hopes of attracting more talented immigrants in the STEM fields.

Harmonize rules to allow visa holders from Australia, Singapore and Chile to continue working here longer.

This amounts to a technical, administrative change that the government hopes will help more STEM-talented immigrants plant their careers in the United States.

Launch and develop the ‘Entrepreneurs in Residence’ initiative

Entrepreneurs in Residence started in 2011 with the idea of using the expertise in corporate America to help stimulate foreign investment, immigrant investors and immigrant entrepreneurs. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas characterizes the initiative as an attempt to get the government and U.S. business working together to attract the foreign talent the U.S. economy needs.

“The introduction of expert views from the private and public sectors will help us ensure that our policies and processes fully realize the immigration laws’ potential to grow our economy and create American jobs,” Mayorkas has said.

Citation: Washington Post