Last Thursday, President Obama announced a plan to help fix the immigration system through his executive authority that includes additional resources on the ground and elsewhere to secure the border, streamline the court process, and add more protections for crime victims.
What do these announcements mean for U.S. business and foreign workers, however? The announcement contained several measures designed to promote a more competitive destination for skilled workers, reduce major backlogs that force talent to leave, and modify outdated programs to better align with our modern technological era and business demands.
Changes to our employment-based system are critical for both employers and employees. The Dept. of Labor (DOL) recently reported, for example, that employers filed over 70,000 PERM applications to employ permanent workers this past fiscal year alone. It is clear that there is high demand for talent. Yet, the current visa quota system is so backlogged in areas that employers lose valuable employees whose status expires and must leave the country.
In addition, many of the recruitment methods for PERM are also outdated, such that they do not reflect updated methods of information dissemination, or are so stringent that green card applications are denied after years of waiting due to nonmaterial errors in the process. In his announcement, the President unveiled a plan to address these and other employment issues.
More specifically, some of the proposed employment-based changes are as follows:
Modernize PERM Program:
- DOL will be undertaking a review of PERM program & regulations and seek input on points, including processing times, nonmaterial errors, and modernizing recruitment methods.
Enhance Options for Foreign Entrepreneurs:
- The President directed the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop a program that allows certain foreign investors, entrepreneurs, researchers, investors, and founders of start-up enterprises to be paroled into the United States to pursue their initiative.
Clarity for Multinational Companies
- Currently, the absence of fixed guidance of the term “specialized knowledge” has resulted in inconsistent treatment and processing times of L-1 intracompany transferee visa petitions, which are critical to multinational business. DHS has now been directed to clarify the meaning of the term to decrease uncertainty and help streamline our global workforce.
- This should help businesses and workers who transfer from an office abroad to the US office.
Extend Student Visas and Optional Practical Training
- Currently, F-1 students and graduates may receive only 12 additional months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) for temporary employment in the U.S. Students/graduates in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) may receive an additional 17 months.
- Understanding the significant value that foreign students and graduates bring to U.S. employers and the country, the President directed DHS to develop regulations to expand the OPT degree programs and extend the time period of OPT for foreign STEM students.
Decrease Backlogs for Employer Petitions
- Current system backlogs require thousands of employers and employees to wait an extremely long time for visa numbers to become available in order to apply for a green card. This quota system is based on a system established decades ago, and needs fixing.
- DHS has been directed to improve the immigrant visa process by making sure that all immigrant visas for a given year are issued and advance approved visa petitions that have been approved. This is anticipated to impact over 400,000 individuals.
Other actions, such as the expansion of the DACA program, also carry important advantages to eligible individuals, such as work authorization, which benefits both businesses and families.
Most of the employment-based announcements must go through a rulemaking process, which means the changes will not be overnight or even this year. However, Wilson Law Group will continue to monitor the developments and looks forward to helping you navigate the complexities to achieve your objective - whether a global company, small business or individual.
Please do not hesitate to contact our office to arrange a free consultation.