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Obama Immigration Plan – H-4, F-1, L-1 & Green Card Changes

President Obama’s immigration plan, which is expected to benefit nearly 4.9 million people in the coming months, includes the H-4 visa, F-1 visa, & green card changes among other developments. Due to the complexity and multifaceted approach of the Immigration Accountability Executive Action we’ll focus exclusively on H-4, F-1, L-1 & green card changes in this article.

H4, F1, L1 & Green Card Changes

H-4 Visa Changes Coming 2015

There were a number of changes involving workers, businesses, and foreign professionals introduced by Obama in the series of executive actions. Back in May of this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced two proposals to attract and retain foreign skilled professionals. The first proposed rule involved extending employment authorization to the spouses of H-1B workers. Specifically, the DHS suggested that spouses who were living in the U.S on H-4 status should be able to apply for EADs assuming their spouse had an approved LPR application.

In addition to that, the President in conjunction with the DHS, plan to loosen the stringent rules for H-1B workers to move between sponsoring employees.

In reaction to these proposals, the Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, “The proposed rules announced today [May 6, 2014] provide important support to U.S. businesses while also supporting economic growth here in the U.S.”

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker went on to say, “These two proposed rule changes are an integral part of the Administration’s efforts to strengthen entrepreneurship and innovation, and to help the United States attract and retain highly skilled immigrants…The fact is, we must do more to retain and attract world-class talent to the United States and these regulations put us on a path to doing that. These actions promise to unleash more of the extraordinary contributions that immigrants have always made to America’s innovation economy.”

The regulations announced earlier this year are expected to go into effect January 2015.

Expansion to Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Holders

According to the executive action, there will be significant changes and expansions to the Optional Practical Training Program (OPT) for foreign students currently on F-1 visa status. As it stands now, students are permitted to legally work in the U.S. within their field of study for twelve months following graduation and an additional seventeen months for those with concentrations on Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) from an accredited school or college.

Current F-1 Visa Requirements Dictate that:

  • The program be an accredited academic institution, language-training program or vocational program.
  • The school or program accepting the foreign student (full-time) must be accepted by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP).
  • The student pay all related SEVIS fees and proceed with F-1 visa interviews

As part of the executive action, USCIS and ICE intend to reevaluate the OPT program and make potential changes like:

  • Expanding the fields of study
  • Extending the time frame STEM students can stay in the country following graduation
  • Permit STEM graduates seeking a second degree not specifically in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math to remain within the OPT program
  • More stringent requirements when it comes to degree-granting institutions to ensure that the foreign student’s practical training compliments their studies
  • Greater consistency across the board with OPT employment options

The proposed changes are an attempt to retain STEM graduates and put their valuable skills to use in the United States. Verbatim proposals regarding H-4, F-1, L-1 & green card changes can be found here.

L-1B “Specialized Knowledge” Clarified

L-B1 visas, intra-company transferee visas, help multinational companies transfer employees, executives and managers with “specialized knowledge” to the United States. Since there is much ambiguity regarding the definition of “specialized knowledge,” the USCIS (as part of the executive action) will publish an updated memo providing a clearer definition and explanation of what qualifies as “specialized knowledge.” The main reeason behind this initiative is because many companies have faced rejections and RFEs as the result of its vagueness.

Green Card Changes

There are more than a few changes to come in respect to green cards and the current system for issuing them. The USCIS has made it crystal clear that they intend to refresh the Visa Bulletin Systems. The current processes in place are not as efficient as they could be, and as result there are long waiting periods for green card approvals.

Clarify “Same or Similar Job”

Individuals who have applied for an adjustment of status and find themselves stuck in limbo as they await green card processing, are often forced to remain in their same jobs (often turning down promotions as to not delay their processing). With the upcoming changes, the USCIS plans to clarify “same or similar jobs”  in an attempt to not stunt the progression of applicant’s careers.

Extending Travel Permissions and Options

Another problem inherent to pending green card applications is that many people are hesitant to travel because they fear being denied re-entry. The DHS plans to offer advanced permissions (Advance Parole) for pending applicants so that they may travel overseas and return without experience complications.

Summary of H-4, F-1, L-1 & Green Card Changes Expected

The aforementioned points provide a brief snapshot of H-4, F-1, L-1 & green card changes anticipated in the coming months. These changes will be beneficial for millions of people in the United States and abroad, particularly H1B family members and H-4 spouses. It’s necessary to mention that while these changes have been announced, as of this point, there is no definitive deadline in place. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should delay preparation.

How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help

  • To best serve our clients, we stay up-to-date and current on all immigration related matters including H-4, F-1, L-1 & green card changes expected in 2015.
  • Our immigration attorneys can help H-4 spouses receive EADs as well as any other employment-based green card processes.
  • We specialize in corporate and business immigration so you can be assured that your case is being handled by professionals with exceptional knowledge in the field.

If you have any further questions regarding H-4, F-1, L-1 & green card changes, please don’t hesitate to contact our office.