If I were an international student hoping for U.S. employment, I’d be wondering “What does the Obama executive order on immigration mean for international students who want to work in the U.S.?” The answer, put succinctly, is “not much new… yet.”
Today I spoke with immigration attorneys Pete Gianino and Melissa Nolan at the St. Louis firm of Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, and asked them what international student job seekers should know. Pete’s an old friend of mine and I happily refer students to him when I get questions about immigration law during my presentations on campus. I’m glad I’m not a lawyer, and even more glad to have a friend who is! Here’s the scoop:
1. First and foremost, Pete and Melissa stressed that there is a lack of clarity and standards across certain areas of U.S. immigration law. The uncertainty in both eligibility requirements and enforcement can leave immigrant workers (and even lawyers) guessing. Much of the Obama executive order on immigration is a series of “directives” to look into ways to improve problem areas. For example, international students graduating from STEM fields typically enjoy an extended grace period in transitioning from OPT to H-1B. The problem is that under current guidelines, it’s often difficult to determine what programs qualify as STEM and which do not.
Another existing lack of clarity is what qualifies as “specialized knowledge” for the L1B visa (which is typically used by global companies to run the internal transfer of employees to the U.S.). The visa hasn’t been used much because confidence in getting approved has been low.
Although Obama’s executive action suggests that there be more clarity around issues like the above, there are no immediate changes other than to prescribe that various government agencies put together a proposal for how things could be improved.
2. H-4 visas now carry non-employer specific work authorization. This is a substantial change in practice, which might make it easier for those of you who are married to convince your spouse that your getting a job in the U.S is a good idea! Under new regulations, husbands and wives of H-1B holders are eligible to get authorization to work for any employer for as long as they are married to an H-1B holder.
3. I’d been hearing some talk about it becoming easier for entrepreneurs to arrange work authorization for themselves, and asked Pete and Melissa about it. It turns out that this is another item slated for further exploration by the executive order and that no new regulations have been created. However, I learned that it’s possible to use OPT to do something entrepreneurial. That was news to me – although the question remains of what to do after the OPT period. Without substantial money to invest, options for continuing your venture remain limited.
4. I’d also heard that there were provisions for speeding the process of application review and decision making. Once again, the order calls for USCIS , the Department of Labor and the State Department to get together and work out a plan, but does not institute any resolutions.
Pete and Melissa’s advice for international student job seekers on all of this: know about your options and keep as many of them open as you can. Choices about curriculum, family and timing can influence your chances for employment along the way. I asked why immigration law is so complicated and slow moving and Pete likened it to the Internal Revenue Service (the U.S. tax collection agency). It has many stakeholders, high emotional stakes and there is a constant struggle to maintain a balance between completeness and accessibility.
Keep an eye on this blog as I’ll try to get more updates on the executive order as they emerge. If you’ve got immediate legal questions, Pete and Melissa can be reached at the addresses below.