U.S. Immigration Executive Order: High Skilled Workers

On November 20, 2014, President Obama issued a series of executive orders that will address the immigration problems that have been plaguing the United States for decades. There has been a lot written on the deferred action on immigrants who are living in the United States illegally. However, an executive order was also issued to keep high skilled workers employed and working in the United States.

Modernizing the Employment-Based Immigrant Visa System

The employment-based immigration system is plagued by extremely long waiting periods because of the low numerical limits of immigrant visas allocated to employment petitions. These limits were established nearly two and a half decades ago. As a result of the long waiting periods, hundreds of thousands of visas have gone unused as people have given up on immigrating to the United States or immigrated to the United States under a different visa. The executive order directed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to improve the immigrant visa process to minimize the loss of unused visas and to protect beneficiaries of approved employment petitions from losing their visas if they decide to change jobs or employers.

Extensions of Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows foreign students to legally work for twelve months in an employment in their field of study upon completion of their program. In 2007, regulations were adopted to allow students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields to be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT to work for a total of 29 months. This program allowed many STEM graduates to work in the United States instead of leaving with their new learned skills. The executive order directs the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the USCIS to expand on the number of degree programs where students are eligible for the 17 month extension of their OPT.

Promotion of Startups, Research, and Development in the U.S.

The United States has historically been a nation of technological development and top tier Universities. Investors and researchers are attracted to coming to the United States but the ambiguity of the law and the lack of applicable visa categories makes this difficult.

In order to promote startup companies, research, and development in the United States, the executive order directs the USCIS to clarify the meaning of “national interest waiver” and parole individuals who can prove a “significant public benefits” into the United States. The national interest waiver are for immigrants who do not have an employer sponsorship but have an advance degree or exceptional ability that will be of national interest to the United States. The number of immigrant visa allocated to this category are never fully utilized because of the lack of guidance as to standardize the meaning of national interest.

In addition, the executive order directs USCIS to use its authority to parole individuals on a case-by-case basis to inventors, researchers, and start-up founders who have been awarded substantial investor financing or holds the promise innovation and job creation as a result of new technologies that could be created. The parole will provide these individuals temporary status in the United States so that they can develop their technologies and pursue research in the United States rather than abroad.

There are a lot of arguments over the deferred action for aliens who are illegally in the United States. However, within the series of executive orders are no nonsense ways that will improve the American economy. The executive order on supporting high skilled businesses and workers will allow U.S. businesses to hire and retain highly skilled foreign workers. In addition, it will support American as the cradle of technological advancement and research.


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