Four provisions included in President Obama’s executive order on immigration, announced Thursday, will make it easier for some foreign-born scientists to find jobs in the U.S. One provision applies to foreign-born students studying at U.S. institutions, while the remaining three address skilled foreign workers seeking work in the U.S.
First, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was directed to expand and extend the Optional Practical Training program. The OPT allows students studying at U.S. universities to work full time for up to 29 months on their student visas. The executive order will expand the program to include more STEM students and extend the amount of time they may continue to work on their student visas. In addition, officials must improve oversight of the OPT program, which has been criticized in the past.
Second, the executive order will “enhance options for foreign entrepreneurs.” Entrepreneurs who meet certain income requirements and other eligibility criteria for “creating jobs, attracting investment and generating revenue in the U.S.” will have an easier time immigrating. No mechanism was stated, but it may involve the O-1 visa program.
Finally, it will be easier for companies to transfer foreign workers into the U.S. and for skilled immigrants already working in the U.S. to move into “same or similar” jobs. This means that workers with lawful permanent resident status may accept promotions or seek similar jobs at other companies while awaiting their visas. They also may file paperwork to seek permanent residency or green cards after visa approval, even if they have yet to receive their actual visas. In addition, spouses of H-1B visa holders will find it easier to receive employment authorization. H-1B visas are common in the research and tech industries.
While all of these changes are likely to increase the number of scientists able to work in the U.S., the executive order did not address the total number of H-1B visas available. Increasing this number would allow more foreign scientists to work in the U.S. The White House has said that changing this number will require an act of Congress. Furthermore, the order did not develop a path toward permanent residency for scientists who earn their Ph.D. in the U.S. However, there is a bill in the U.S. House, H.R. 1227, that would directly address this issue, and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology strongly supports this legislation.
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