President Obama issued a new proposed executive action that would grant work permits to foreign workers who are in the country on temporary work visas and have applied for employment-based green cards if implemented. The proposal would also extend the length of work permits for foreign STEM students who participate in the Optional Training Program (OPT). Additionally, the executive action would offer extensions to high-skilled foreign H-1B workers, providing more time to be approved for a permanent employment-based green card. The 181-page proposal was issued just before the New Year’s holiday in what appeared to be an attempt to limit the potential near term public criticism.
The proposed executive action would bypass the INA per-country caps for H-1B workers, essentially providing them with a fast track to U.S. citizenship. The executive action would also offer a 180-day extension to any foreign student participating in the OPT program. The OPT program is often called the “mini H-1B program” since many of the students are hired on the H-1B visa once their OPT work permit expires. This extension would give more time for foreign students to stay and work in the country until issued a H-1B visa. The new policy would also allow companies to hire these foreign student graduates at lower salaries than American graduates since they will also have the ability to receive a permanent work permit. Some critics have argued that this would create a sizeable competition barrier for American graduates who also seek employment and relied on the higher wages to pay off student loan debt.
This new proposed action comes after the 17-month OPT extension for STEM students is set to expire in February unless the federal courts provide DHS with a 3-month extension of the program in order to complete the process to replace the rule.