According to the White House, Obama will direct the Department of Homeland Security to help students in the so-called STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- by proposing, per a White House fact sheet released Thursday night, to "expand and extend" the controversial Optional Practical Training program that now allows foreign-born STEM students and recent graduates remain in the United States for up to 29 months. The exact details of that expansion will be worked out by the Department of Homeland Security as it goes through a rulemaking process.
The OPT program has been criticized for a lack of oversight on the part of participating colleges. According to the fact sheet, the expansion will "require stronger ties between OPT students and their colleges and universities following graduation."
Obama will also direct DHS to make it easier for entrepreneurs to get approval to work in the United States, according to the White House. "DHS will expand immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment, and generating revenue in the U.S., to ensure that our system encourages them to grow our economy," the fact sheet said. The mechanism is not yet clear, but likely involves what is known as the O-1 visa program.
In addition, DHS will "clarify its guidance on temporary L-1 visas for foreign workers who transfer from a company’s foreign office to its U.S. office." That program is used to bring to the United States workers who have gained experience working for U.S. companies in their overseas operations.
The rule changes would make it easier for those from abroad to get a toehold in the U.S. tech industry. And it gives the industry a pair of significant wins as it tries to change U.S. immigration policy.
But Obama will not address one of the tech industry's top policy priorities: increasing the number of H1-B visas available for high-skilled workers. Employers must apply for those visas, which allow foreign-born workers to stay in the country for up to six years. But the program is capped at 65,000 workers, which the tech industry would like to see raised. The cap is set by Congress.
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