Saturday, November 29, 2014

Part of the Obama Plan: High-Skilled Workers

As Kevin noted yesterday, part of President Obama's immigration action concerns high-skilled workers. Two aspects of that plan merit further examination: visa portability and employment opportunities for spouses.

First, the employment-based visa system currently restricts the ability of workers to change jobs without jeopardizing pending applications for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. Jen Johnson's November 20 memo identifies the root of this problem: Workers can change jobs only if the new jobs is in a "same or similar" occupational classification as their old job. Secretary Johnson, quite reasonably, calls for additional agency guidance on this language to ensure that workers can, for example, accept promotions within their field without jeopardizing an LPR application.

In a different Johnson memo, and included in a White House Fact Sheet on the immigration action, is discussion of spouses of highly-skilled workers. The Fact Sheet says: "DHS is finalizing new rules to give certain H-1B spouses employment authorization as long as the H-1B spouse has an approved LPR application."

Indeed, the Obama administration had announced plans to allow spouses of H1-B holders to work back in May 2014. The idea behind allowing spouses of H1-B holder to work is, as DHS Secretary has Mayorkas stated, to "encourage highly skilled, specially trained individuals to remain in the United States" and to maintain U.S. "competitiveness with other countries that attract skilled foreign workers and offer employment authorization for spouses." While the rules were proposed in May, they haven't yet been finalized. Apparently, they will be soon.

As Kevin noted, these are "modest attempts... to marginally improve the ability of high-skilled workers to immigrate and remain in the United States." Nonetheless, it's important to understand that the president's immigration action is not limited to unauthorized migration - he is taking some steps concerning lawful migration.


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