Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face”? As the pre-election rhetoric heats up, we’re hearing more and more about illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, as the discussion continues to be a point of differentiation between candidates, we may be seeing the law of unintended consequences kick in.
A recent decision in Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has eliminated the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT) extension. The United States Court for the District of Columbia based its decision on procedural concerns, but stayed the implementation of the ruling until February 12, 2016. Let’s break down the implications of this ruling.
Foreign students, upon completing a degree from a US educational institution certified by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), are eligible for 12 months of optional practical training (OPT) to work for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study. In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implemented the OPT Extension Rule that extended the eligibility of those holding science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees to stay on in the United States for an additional period of 17 months if they are employed by a company that is enrolled in E-Verify and are awaiting processing of their H-1B petitions.
Without such an extension, the foreign students in the USA will be required to leave the United States once their 12-month OPT period concludes. While these individuals are NOT illegal immigrants, they would be forced into that category if they failed to leave.
So what does this have to do with cutting off your nose to spite your face? If we are to believe most analysts, and the growing numbers of U.S. corporations that are each spending millions of dollars annually to address the shortage of qualified STEM workers, our economy is suffering from a shortage of STEM skills. The United States has already invested heavily in the foreign-born students who studied for advanced degrees from U.S. universities in STEM fields. Let’s examine the potential impact of the decision.
As indicated above, these are individuals who have specialized in fields that drive innovation and foster new business ideas. Typically, when employed they are assigned to long-term projects that span years. A 12-month limit to their period of employment requires their departure just as they are beginning to make their greatest contribution.
If you are an employer, what impact do you expect this ruling to have on your hiring, promotion, and staffing decisions? Share your concerns and let the Department of Homeland Security know that they need to act to set matters right. Unless the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) decides to prepare and issue a hurried new OPT STEM extension, this ruling is bound to result in forcing many foreign STEM workers on F-1 visas to return to their native countries. So, the time to be heard on this is now!
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