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Colleges can obtain H-1B visas for foreign students

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Universities in Maryland and nationwide could be using a legal loophole to obtain H-1B visas for foreign students, circumventing a federal lottery system that caps the annual number of such visas available. College officials say exploiting the loophole fixes a flawed immigration system, but critics counter the practice goes against the spirit of federal law.

The H-1B visa is a work permit awarded to foreign nationals with at least a bachelor's degree in certain specialty occupations, including math and technology. The U.S. issues only 85,000 such visas each year, but 236,000 foreign workers filed applications in 2016. The disparity means that thousands of foreign students who earned specialty degrees at American schools and want to start U.S. businesses are forced to leave the country, sometimes leaving years of work behind.

However, employees of colleges and universities are exempt from the federal cap and can be issued H-1B visas directly. To take advantage of that loophole, some schools are creating "global entrepreneur in residence" programs. These programs allow some graduates to work part time at a school while they create a business and, therefore, qualify for an H-1B visa. Schools say the programs help local economies and help them recruit quality international students, but critics say they are simply skirting federal regulations. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley called the practice "seemingly unlawful," and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a ban on all H-1B visas.

The U.S. visa application process is complex and time sensitive. Foreign nationals interested in obtaining an H-1B visa or another type of work permit may benefit by speaking with an attorney familiar with immigration and naturalization law.

Source: Inc, "U.S. Colleges Skirt Work Visa Law to Help Entrepreneurs," Collin Binkley, July 6, 2016

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