Immigration Reform: President Obama Sets The Ball Rolling

In a momentous address to the nation on Thursday, November 20, 2014, President Obama announced his much-anticipated plans for immigration reform through executive action.

As announced, some of the critical aims of the President’s executive actions would be:

  1. Cracking down on illegal immigration at the border, and prioritizing deporting felons, not families;
  2. Creating an opportunity for certain undocumented immigrants to register to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation; and
  3. Streamlining legal immigration and promoting naturalization.

Some of the key initiatives outlined include:

Investor Visas

  • Expanding immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment, and generating revenue in the U.S.
  • Was the child’s legal mother at the time of birth under the law of the relevant jurisdiction.

Employment-Based Green Cards

  • Providing portable work authorization for high-skilled workers awaiting Green Card status and their spouses. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will make regulatory changes to allow foreign nationals with approved I-140 petitions waiting for a visa to become available, to move or change jobs more easily.
  • Employment authorization for H-4 spouses of H-1B status holders who have an approved I-140 petition or labor certifications. DHS is already finalizing new rules in this regard.
  • Clarifying the standard by which an EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) may be granted to foreign inventors, researchers and founders of start-up enterprises.
  • Regulatory action to modernize the labor market test that employers have to undertake while sponsoring foreign workers for employment-based Green Cards, that is, modernizing the PERM system.
  • Providing clear, consolidated guidance on the meaning of “specialized knowledge” for L-1B.

Family-Based Green Cards

  • Expanding the provisional waiver program to allow spouses and sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents, and the sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, to apply for provisional waivers of unlawful presence before departing the United States to attend immigrant visa interviews.
  • Providing greater assurance to individuals with a pending Green Card application, or certain temporary status permission, to travel abroad with advance parole by written guidance to CBP.

Student Visa

  • Strengthening and extending on-the-job training for STEM graduates of U.S universities. DHS will propose changes to expand and extend the use of the existing Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

Deferred Action for Undocumented Immigrants

  • A new deferred action program for parents of U.S. Citizens or Green Card holders who are not enforcement priorities, and who have been in the U.S. for more than 5 years. Such individuals will have the opportunity to request temporary relief from deportation, and work authorization for three years at a time, if they register and pass the necessary background checks and pay taxes.
  • Expanding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to cover additional DREAMers so that individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children can apply if they entered the country before January 1, 2010 (previously June 15, 2007), regardless of how old they are today. DACA relief will also be granted for three years.

Other Visas

  • Expanding and strengthening immigration options for victims of crimes and trafficking who cooperate in government investigations.

It is important to note that while the President has announced the executive actions yesterday, it may take some time before the initiatives are actually implemented on the ground. It is expected that while some initiatives will be implemented in as little as 1-2 months, others will take longer. We are following the updates closely and will keep you informed of further developments as they unfold.

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