As employers and educators of hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals each year, U.S. colleges and universities will be uniquely impacted by President Obama’s new actions targeting the U.S. immigration system.
The president’s recently announced series of executive and administrative actions are intended to streamline, modernize and simplify elements of the U.S. immigration system. While programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents (DAP) have captured significant media attention, the administration also is proposing significant changes to the current employment-based immigration processes that directly impact institutions of higher education, their foreign national faculty, and their international students and alumni. The details of the Executive actions are still emerging. Some changes will occur through executive order or policy memorandum, and others will be implemented by regulation.
For institutions of higher education that sponsor foreign national faculty, researchers and staff and those institutions with international student bodies, the anticipated changes could have significant impact on employees, students, and their families.
Some of the initiatives of particular interest to the higher education community are ones that seek to:
- Extend the length of time that STEM graduates are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization and expand the degree programs designated as STEM. The new benefits of STEM OPT will likely be linked to an increase in the involvement that schools will be required to have with students in OPT;
- Authorize parole, on a case-by-case basis, to eligible investors, researchers and founders of start enterprises with substantial U.S. investor financing or otherwise hold the promise of innovation and job creation;
- Provide the benefits of a pending Form I-485 to foreign nationals with an approved Form I-140 but who face long backlogs in green card processing;
- Finalize regulations to allow work authorization for the H-4 spouses of some H-1B workers; and
- Modernize the labor certification process.
In the coming weeks, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Labor will provide additional guidance on these and other proposed changes, including the expected implementation timelines. We will provide periodic updates as this information is released.
In the meantime, it can be very frustrating for individuals who believe they are eligible for one of these new programs to wait for rulemaking to occur or new policy directives to be finalized. Any individual, including members of university or college community, who believes that he or she may be eligible for a new immigration program or benefit, can prepare by taking the following steps:
- Organize immigration documents. U.S. immigration is a paper-based process which requires and generates an array of documents including approval and receipt notices, I-94 records, I-20s, and Employment Authorization Documents. The ability to easily access immigration documents in a timely manner will help applicants making any type of immigration-related filing.
- Collect biographic and education documents. Similarly, individuals can take this opportunity to find the biographic and education documents that are often required in immigration processes such as birth and marriage certificates and diplomas or transcripts. Additionally, an updated resume or CV is often required in employment-based filings.
- Be wary of scams. The Department of Homeland Security has been very clear that it will take months to implement the executive actions discussed above. Be suspicious of any website, e-mail solicitation, or individuals extolling immediate results and making extraordinary promises.