President Obama’s remarks last week announcing his executive orders on immigration reform, and the press coverage that has followed the announcement, have largely focused on changes involving undocumented immigrants and family unity. While the White House has also announced changes to the employment-based immigration system, those changes have been less discussed, and are as yet less clearly defined, than the centerpiece deferred action program.
So far, the administration has said that it plans to:
- grant work permission to spouses of certain H-1B visa holders;
- expand “optional practical training” or “OPT” work opportunities for foreign students studying at U.S. universities;
- provide a more detailed definition of “specialized knowledge” for purposes of L-1B visa petitions;
- make parole and national interest waivers more widely available to inventors, researchers, and entrepreneurs; and
- make sure that available immigrant visas are fully allocated to reduce wait times, and that visa bulletins more reliably predict future visa availability.
The first of the above items is the most fleshed-out of the proposals, as it was announced as a stand-alone initiative earlier in the year and is simply awaiting finalization. The others will largely require issuance of new guidance or regulations, and the specifics of the proposals will probably not be known until the draft regulations are published for comment.
While none of these initiatives would make a greater number of either H-1B visas or employment-based permanent residents visas available than have been available under current law, new allocation rules on visas could slightly reduce wait times for some “EB” applicants, and expanded OPT opportunities may provide relief for some employers and employees who lose out in the lottery for oversubscribed H-1B visas. Employers in the process of sponsoring current H-1B employees for permanent residency may receive increased demands from the beneficiaries to push the process forward quickly, so that the employees’ trailing spouses can obtain work authorization in the United States.
Watch this blog for updates as the employment-based aspects of the executive orders become more detailed.