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DHS announces changes to visa programs for highly-skilled workers

President Obama has made it clear that he wants to make the country more attractive for foreign nationals who could help create jobs and boost the economy. He has said that both new legislation and changes to existing policy are needed to do this.

In line with this, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will be taking steps in the upcoming months to make the employment-based visa application process easier for highly-skilled immigrants who want to enter or remain in the United States.

The DHS said this potentially include creating a "Startup Visa," strengthening the H-1B program and "stapling" green cards to the diplomas of certain foreign-born graduates in certain fields, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The DHS said that existing visa programs will also see some administrative reforms, although it didn't specify when the reforms will take effect.

Here are a few of the visa program reforms the DHS said it plans to make:

  • Expanding eligibility for the 17-month extension of optional practical training (OPT) for F-1 international students with a prior degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM);
  • Allowing additional part-time study for spouses of F-1 students, and certify more Designated School Officials (DSOs) at schools to enroll international students;
  • Providing work authorization for spouses of certain H-1B holders;
  • Allowing outstanding professors and researchers to present more of their academic achievements in support of their visa applications;
  • Changing the rules to treat E-3 and H-1B1 visa holders the same as other employment-based H-1B and L-1 visa holders, allowing them to continue working with their current employer for up to 240 days while they wait for their extensions of status; and
  • Creating an "Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative" at the end of February to essentially create a forum of key players from the entrepreneurial community, academia and federal government to discuss the best way to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent with the current immigration laws.

These are all positive initiatives that could make it easier for highly-skilled workers to live and work in the United States.

Source: Government Security News, "DHS outlines plans to reform visa processes to keep highly-skilled immigrant workers," Mark Rockwell, Feb. 1, 2012

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