As part of ongoing efforts to attract and retain immigrants who create jobs and boost competitiveness in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced a series of administrative reforms that are aimed to make the United States more attractive to highly-skilled foreign students and workers, thereby improving the competitiveness of U.S. companies in the world market and stimulating U.S. job creation. A few of the notable initiatives announced are:
- Expanding the eligibility for 17-month extension of OPT for F-1 International Students to include students with a prior degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Presently, an F-1 student may only engage in OPT for 12 months. F-1 students who graduate in programs of study classified as STEM can obtain a 17-month extension of OPT as part of their F-1 status if the degree they were conferred is included on the DHS list of eligible STEM degree programs. The proposed change would expand eligibility for extension of OPT to include students with a STEM degree that is not the most recent degree the student has received.
- Providing work authorization for spouses of certain H-1B holders.
The proposed change would allow certain spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally work while their visa holder spouse waits for his or her Adjustment of Status application to be adjudicated. Specifically, employment will be authorized for H-4 dependent spouses of principal H-1B visa holders who have begun the process of seeking lawful permanent resident status through employment after meeting a minimum period of H-1B status in the U.S.
- Harmonizing rules to allow E-3 visa holders from Australia and H-1B1 visa holders from Singapore and Chile to continue working with their current employer for up to 240 days while their petitions for extension of status are pending.
The proposed regulation would treat E-3 and H-1B1 visa holders the same as other employment-based H-1B and L-1 visa holders by allowing them to continue employment with their current employer for up to 240 days from the expiration of their authorized period of stay, if a petition to extend their status has been timely filed.
- Allowing outstanding Professors and Researchers to present a broader scope of evidence of academic achievement.
The proposed change would increase the types of evidence that employers can submit to demonstrate that a Professor or Researcher is among the very best in their field and allow “comparable evidence” beyond the specifically articulated regulatory list.
DHS has only indicated that these administrative reforms will be completed in the future, but has not given clear timelines as to when these reforms would become effective. Hence, more details are awaited from the Department in this regard, before one can fully appreciate the impact of these initiatives.