When President Obama announced his Executive Actions On Immigration (to take effect in about 90 days), he said that the changes were intended to “make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.” 

Here are the highlights: 

A larger pool of undocumented individuals will be eligible to receive work authorization.

Up to 5 million undocumented individuals will be eligible to receive work authorization as a result of 

  • expansion of the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program for persons who entered the United States. as children under the age of 16; and 
  • institution of a new program for parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Other proposals should improve our legal immigration system.

  • Visa Modernization – There are unreasonably long waits in many employment categories for applicants to obtain visas to become lawful permanent residents. The appropriate agencies are to look at ways to modernize the visa system, including efforts to ensure that all available visa numbers are captured. Agencies will also consider whether spouses and children of employees should be counted as individual applicants, or whether one visa could cover the entire family. 
  • Enhancing Options for Foreign Entrepreneurs. This initiative includes liberalizing the rules for national interest waivers that will allow employees to bypass the recruitment of U.S. workers via the PERM (permanent labor certification) process.
  • Clarification of “Specialized Knowledge” Applicable to L-1B Visas – The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is expected to adopt a more liberal interpretation of “specialized knowledge.” 
  • Expanded I-140 Portability – Employees with approved I-140 petitions who are unable to apply for permanent residency because of the unavailability of a visa number, will be allowed the benefits of adjustment of status – that is, employment and travel authorization, and the ability to transfer to a new position or employer in the same occupational classification as the one covered by the I-140 petition or a “similar” one. “Same or similar” also will be clarified to allow greater opportunities for job transfers and promotions.
  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) – STEM-based optional practical training will be expanded. Currently, optional practical training is allowed for up to 29 months for U.S. graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees in STEM fields. 
  • Spouses of H-1B workers who are in the latter stages of the permanent resident process will be allowed to apply for employment authorization. The proposed rule (announced before the Executive Actions on Immigration) is to be finalized by January 2015.