US Proposes Changes in F-1 & H-1B Visas to Attract More Foreign Skilled Workers

Foreign Workers.jpgThe United States Department of Homeland Security announced it will make changes in the F-1 and H-1B visa categories, which will likely benefit professionals from countries such as India. Changes would include providing work authorization for spouses of H-1B visa holders, 17-month extension of optional practical training (OPT) for certain F-1 international students, allow for additional part-time study for spouses of F-1 students, and allow outstanding professors and researchers to present a broader scope of evidence of academic achievement.

Under current immigration law, H-4 visa spouses of H-1B work visas holders are not permitted to work themselves. One of the proposed DHS regulations would change this. The new regulation would allow some spouses of H-1B visa holders to work legally while the H-1B visa holder spouses wait for their adjustment of status applications to be adjudicated. H-4 dependent spouses would be granted employment authorization when the principal H-1B visa holders begin the process of seeking lawful permanent resident status through employment after meeting a minimum period of H-1B status in the United States.

Currently, F-1 students may only work in optional practical training (OPT) for 12 months. DHS plans to provide 17 month extensions of OPT for those students with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Changes would also allow for additional part-time study for spouses of F-1 students, and would increase the number of Designated School Officials (DSOs) at DHS certified schools to enroll international students. Under current immigration regulation, spouses may only take part-time vocational or recreational classes. The proposed changes would permit spouses of F-1 students to enroll in additional academic classes on a part-time basis while the F-1 student is enrolled in full-time studies.

The DHS’s stated purpose here is to reform administrative practices and ease the visa process for highly-skilled immigrants who want to come to the United States for work. This effort could help retain talented professionals who are valued by U.S. employers and who seek to contribute to our economy.