The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced yesterday a series of administrative reforms aimed at attracting and retaining highly-skilled immigrants. The initiatives, according to DHS, will "serve 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." The reforms include the following:
1) Expand eligibility for 17-month extension of optional practical training (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 optional practical training (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. This proposed change would expand eligibility for extension of OPT by including students with a STEM degree that is not the most recent degree the student has received. Furthermore, because of the dynamic nature of STEM related education and training, DHS will continue to review emerging fields for possible inclusion in the list of eligible STEM degree programs.
2) Allow for additional part-time study for spouses of F-1 students and expand the number of Designated School Officials (DSOs) at schools certified by DHS to enroll international students.
This regulatory reform would allow spouses of F-1 students to enroll in additional academic classes on a part-time basis while their spouse is pursuing full-time studies. Presently, under the current regulation, spouses may only take part-time vocational or recreational classes. Schools would also be given increased flexibility to determine the number of DSOs needed at their institution to meet both the administrative and guidance needs of students.
3) Provide work authorization for spouses of certain H-1B holders.
This proposed change to the current DHS regulation 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. This effort will help retain talented professionals who are valued by U.S. employers and who seek to contribute to our economy.
4) Allow outstanding professors and researchers to present a broader scope of evidence of academic achievement.
The Law Offices of Richard A. Gump, Jr. represents outstanding professors and researchers filing in the EB-1.2 category. The proposed change to current DHS regulations would increase the types of evidence that employers or self-petitioners can submit to demonstrate that a professor or researcher is among the very best in their field. Presently, applicants for the employment-based immigrant visa category of "outstanding professors and researchers" are limited to specific types of evidence listed by regulation. This would allow "comparable evidence" beyond the specifically articulated regulatory list. This change will harmonize the evidentiary standard for this category with the other exceptional ability immigrant visa categories. While we applaud DHS for recognizing deficiencies in existing EB-1 regulations, improvements in USCIS adjudicator guidance are also needed.
5) Harmonize 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.
This 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. Kudos to DHS for addressing this long standing discrepancy within the regulations. But, we have to ask...why did it take DHS so long to address this issue?
6) Launch Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative.
We first mentioned the Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative on our blog in October. USCIS has announced the first summit meeting of the program. Scheduled for February 22, 2012, USCIS will hold an Information Summit in Silicon Valley, CA, that will bring together high-level representatives from the entrepreneurial community, academia, and federal government agencies to discuss how to maximize current immigration laws' potential to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent. The input gathered at the summit will inform the work of the Entrepreneurs in Residence tactical team, which will bring business experts in-house to work alongside USCIS staff for a period of approximately 90 days. Following the summit, the tactical team will convene in Washington, DC to begin its work. Will this initiative result in progressive and substantive changes in existing regulations? We shall see.
It is important to note that no timeline for implementation of the reforms was mentioned in the press release. The changes will require significant revisions to existing federal regulations.