President Obama’s pending immigration executive actions may have a direct impact on your institution of higher education.  

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

The President’s plan would expand eligibility requirements for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security announced that certain low-risk, low-priority undocumented immigrants could apply for consideration of DACA if they meet specific guidelines.

Those granted DACA relief are eligible for work authorization for two years, which may be renewed, and are granted temporary permission to remain in the United States.  The President’s recent objective seeks to lengthen the period of deferred action from two years to three years and remove the upper age restriction for applicants.  The expansion of the DACA program could lead to an uptick in the number of individuals eligible for DACA and a corresponding increase in enrollment applications from these individuals at colleges and universities.

No federal law bans enrollment of students who have been granted DACA relief at colleges and universities, though these individuals are ineligible for Federal Student Aid programs.  However, state laws are all over the map regarding the availability of in-state tuition for students granted DACA relief, with some state laws specific to individual schools.  As state laws change rapidly, it is important for colleges and universities to remain updated on their states’ immigration laws related to higher education.

Foreign students and graduates

The President’s plan also addresses foreign nationals who attend U.S. colleges and universities who possess student visas and the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.  The OPT program permits student visa holders to work in the United States upon completion of their degree program.  The program limits work authorization to 12 months with an additional 17-month extension for foreign nationals holding certain Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees.  The President directs U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to lengthen the period of work authorization for foreign nationals working in STEM fields and expand the degree programs classified as STEM fields.

The President’s executive actions also include a provision calling for increased involvement of the educational institutions in the OPT program.  This directive may lead to increased accountability of the educational institution to ensure that foreign nationals in the OPT program obtain jobs aligned with their degree program.

What this means to you

The current political climate may quash, stall, or alter the President’s immigration initiatives.  Congress and state legislatures may attempt to override them with new legislation.  Keep an eye on immigration-related issues on the horizon to ensure proper handling at your institution.