The following story appeared in FAIR’s February 6th Legislative Update. To subscribe to FAIR’s Legislative Update click here.

The Department of Homeland Security announced last week it intends to issue regulations in the coming months to amend several visa programs in order to help aliens find jobs in the U.S. or keep the jobs they have. (DHS Website, Jan. 31, 2012)

One of the major changes the Obama Administration intends to enact is expanding the scope of qualifying students who may stay and work for an extended period in the U.S. after graduation. President Obama plans to implement this policy shift by expanding the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which currently allows foreign students (F-1 visa holders) who graduate from U.S. colleges and universities in certain fields to remain in the U.S. to work for up to a year following graduation. (See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)) Last spring, the Administration extended the program an additional 17 months for students graduating with a STEM degree to allow them to remain in the country to work for a total of 29 months upon graduation. (FAIR Legislative Update, May 23, 2011; ICE Press Release, May 12, 2011) The Administration’s latest announcement proposes to expand eligibility for the 29 month OPT program to foreign students currently completing a non-STEM degree so long as they have previously obtained one. The Administration also stated that it intends to continue reviewing additional fields to add to a list of qualifying STEM programs.

Another major policy shift proposed by the Administration is to grant work authorization to certain spouses of H-1B holders. Incorrectly touted by the business lobby as a “high-skilled” visa program, the H-1B program allows employers to petition for an alien to come to the U.S. to fill a vacancy in a “specialty occupation” that may not even require a four-year degree. Under the Administration’s proposal, certain spouses of H-1B visa holders would be allowed to work, taking scarce American jobs, while the H-1B holding spouse seeks a green card.

Other changes announced by the Administration would:

* Allow spouses of student visa holders to enroll in academic classes;
* Loosen documentation requirements to be eligible for an “outstanding professor and researcher” visa (INA § 203(b)(1)(B));
* Allow E-3 and H-1B1 visa holders to continue working for up to 240-days after their visa has expired; and
* Create an initiative to explore how current immigration law can be exploited to expanded entrepreneurial visa programs.

According to DHS’ website, the initiatives are aimed at making the U.S. “more attractive to highly-skilled foreign students and workers, thereby improving the competitiveness of U.S. companies in the world market and stimulating U.S. job creation.”

The Administration’s announcement flies in the face of research refuting the need to bring in foreign workers to fill STEM jobs. In November, FAIR’s research department released a report revealing that:

* There is no evidence that there is, or will exist in the foreseeable future, a shortage of qualified native-born scientists and engineers in the U.S.;
* Wages in STEM occupations have not kept pace with those of other college graduates; and
* Some employers even acknowledge that foreign workers were often prepared to work for less money than U.S. workers and this factored into the employers’ hiring decision.

(See FAIR Report, Jobs Americans Can’t Do? The Myth of a Skilled Worker Shortage, Nov. 2011)

The Administration did not state how soon these changes would be taking effect, merely that they would be sometime in the “future” and were part of the Administration’s dedication to “comprehensive immigration reform.”