Great News for F-1 and H-1B Visa Holders

A January 31 press release from Homeland Security (DHS) contains some positive changes for students and H-1B workers — all with the headlined goal of attracting and retaining highly skilled immigrants.

With the caveat that nothing is final until the immigration folks work out regulations and policies (which can take months), here is what we have to look forward to:

  • Eligibility for a 17-month extension of optional practical training (OPT) for F-1 international students with a prior degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). At the moment, F-1 students are limited to 12 months of OPT.  DHS also plans to continually review emerging fields for possible inclusion in the list of eligible STEM degree programs.
  • Allow spouses of F-1 students to enroll in part-time study academic classes (currently, they are limited to taking recreational or vocational courses).
  • Allow spouses of H-1B holders (H-4 visa holders) who are waiting for USCIS action on an adjustment of status (green card) application to apply for work authorization after meeting a minimum period of H-1B status in the U.S.
  • Broaden the scope of types of evidence that outstanding professors and researchers can present in order to prove their academic achievement in support of their employment-based immigrant visa applications.
  • Treat E-3 visa holders from Australia and H-1B1 visa holders from Singapore and Chile the same as related work visa holders by allowing them to continue working with their current employer for up to 240 days while their petitions for extension of status are pending, assuming these petitions were filed in a timely manner.
  • Launch an initiative called “Entrepreneurs in Residence” at the end of February  2012, which will bring together high-level representatives from the entrepreneurial community, academia, and various federal government agencies to discuss how to maximize current immigration laws’ potential to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent.

All very sensible reforms — why didn’t someone think of them sooner?