Obama Administration Moves Forward With Executive Actions
On July 15, 2015, the White House announced progress and next steps in an effort begun in November 2014 to address problems in the U.S. immigration system through a series of executive actions. The next steps in this effort are summarized in a new report, “Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century.” The report includes a wide range of new actions that federal agencies are undertaking to improve the visa experience for families, workers, employers, and people in need of humanitarian relief.
Among other things, President Obama directed key federal agencies responsible for administering the legal immigration system to explore ways to modernize and streamline the system while helping the U.S. economy and improving services for applicants. Some of the recommendations summarized in the new report include:
- Improving the issuance of employment-based immigrant visa numbers;
- Increasing efficiency for international arrivals through enhanced technology and increasing the focus on high-risk travelers;
- Implementing the “Known Employer Program,” which will allow employers meeting strict criteria to pre-establish certain requirements as petitioners, by creating a prototype, publishing a report upon completion of the pilot, and creating an implementation plan for a permanent program;
- Improving integrity and increasing the minimum investment for immigrant investor visas; and
- Enhancing opportunities and providing greater clarity for certain nonimmigrants, including the circumstances under which U.S. employers may directly sponsor students on F-1 visas for lawful permanent residence.
The report notes progress since the November announcement on several of the Obama administration’s executive actions. For example, regarding a directive to clarify options for intracompany transfers to the United States, USCIS recently published a “consolidated and authoritative policy memorandum” on the L-1B intracompany transferee classification for workers with specialized knowledge. The report says that USCIS plans to issue a final memorandum effective August 31, 2015.
Also, USCIS published a final regulation, effective May 26, 2015, extending eligibility for work authorization to certain H-4 spouses of H-1B workers who are on the path to lawful permanent resident status. USCIS also published a notice of proposed rulemaking on July 15, 2015, that would expand an existing process to provide provisional waivers to certain family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents seeking to obtain lawful permanent residence, thereby reducing family separation. The final rule will be published in spring 2016. The report notes that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working to clarify the definition of extreme hardship, which must be proven by applicants seeking provisional waivers, and plans to release guidance on this issue in the near future.
Also, the report says that the Obama administration “continues to move forward” with expanding opportunities for foreign investors, researchers, and entrepreneurs. Toward that end, DHS plans to propose, consistent with its existing parole authority, a parole program for entrepreneurs who would provide a “significant public benefit”; for example, because they have been awarded substantial U.S. investor financing or otherwise hold the promise of innovation and job creation through the development of new technologies. DHS also will clarify guidance on the standard by which a national interest waiver can be granted, with the aim of promoting its greater use for the benefit of the U.S. economy.
The report also notes that DHS is evaluating the Optional Practical Training program for foreign students and graduates of U.S. universities, to determine how to enhance the program “in a manner that strengthens the program and improves training for students who will enhance American innovation and competitiveness, while protecting U.S. workers.”
The report includes a number of goals on the technology front. For example, the Obama administration wants to provide applicants with a single “dashboard” that allows them to view their case status in the overall process. Currently, the report explains, applicants must check with DHS and the Department of State individually to view their current status. Ideally, the report says, this information would be aggregated, requiring that only one dashboard be checked for an overview of one’s application, and all related components.
On the consular front, the report notes that officers do not have a consistent way of receiving feedback about the visa process, both overseas and in the United States, from key participants, such as applicants, petitioners, lawyers, and community groups. The report says this limits an exchange of information that might help clarify rules, reduce misinformation, and produce valuable insights about consular post processes. The Obama administration is directing the Department of State to share visa process information with key sectors of the public via messages and media with the goal of providing information and engaging in a two-way dialogue so their feedback and input are incorporated into the process.
A related goal is to increase public outreach and engagement efforts by consular posts. The report says that staff will engage applicants through a wide variety of avenues, including existing post websites and digital media, local organizations and websites, and other channels tailored to local conditions, to engage visa applicants and ensure diverse feedback.