Washington is looking to make some changes to the visa process in order to attract and keep highly-skilled immigrants. The potential immigration law plans are part of an initiative to make the United States more competitive in a modern globalized economy. By making certain visa policies more favorable to immigrants, the government has signaled its intent to entice foreign talent in academia and business to come to the United States and contribute to its economic development.
Some of the reforms are aimed at keeping certain foreign students in the United States longer. Students classified as F-1 who have earned a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) can apply for a 17-month extension of their optional practical training (OPT) only if their most recent degree was included in STEM. The proposed changes would expanded the number of fields of study eligible for STEM inclusion and would also allow an F-1 student whose most recent degree is not included in STEM, but who has a prior STEM degree, to apply for the 17-month OPT extension.
The changes also aim to retain excellent foreign professors. Currently, employers can only submit certain types of evidence on behalf of professors in their visa applications. The government would increase the permissible types of evidence as well as bring the standard of proof which an employer must meet in line with that found in other "exceptional ability immigrant visa categories."
Other changes would allow spouses of F-1 students to enroll in part-time academic studies while their spouses take full-time classes. In addition, E-3 and H-1B1 visa holders would receive treatment equal to that received by employment-based H-1B and L-1 visa holders.
An implementation date for the reforms has not been announced.
Source: Government Security News, "DHS outlines plans to reform visa processes to keep highly-skilled immigrant workers," Mark Rockwell, Feb. 1, 2012.