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President’s Immigration Plan Provides Some Changes For Science And Technology Workers

Obama’s order would not increase the number of heavily sought H-1B visas for high-tech workers

by Andrea Widener
December 1, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 48

President Barack Obama’s recent executive action to change the nation’s immigration system includes some supports for science and technology workers. But it does not expand the number of H-1B visas available to bring high-tech workers into the U.S., which is a priority for many science and technology companies.

In recent years, demand has been so high that the supply of H-1B visas was exhausted within days of the application period opening. The President’s action “may be well intended, but executive action is not the long-term solution” to the immigration problem, says Elizabeth Hyman, executive vice president of the advocacy group TechAmerica.

Obama’s move provides some support for immigrant scientists. For example, immigrant workers who have applied for permanent residency would be allowed to change jobs, and their spouses would be permitted to work.

Also, university science majors from abroad could work in jobs related to their studies both while they are students and after graduation. Explaining this change, Obama says, “We educate the world’s young people in our universities, and then we just send them home.”

The President’s move provoked congressional Republicans and may undermine the chances of lawmakers quickly passing a 2015 funding bill for the federal government. Congress returned to work on Dec. 1, leaving it just 10 days to avoid a government shutdown by passing an overarching funding bill or a short-term continuing resolution.


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