Building a 21st Century Immigration System
By Felicia Escobar & Doug Rand
Thank you for signing the petition suggesting that the Obama Administration provide lawful permanent U.S. residency to foreign students who have earned an advanced degree from a U.S. institution of higher education.
We appreciate your voice in the immigration debate and on February 1st at 1:30 p.m. EST we will be holding a conference call to discuss the importance of reforming our immigration system – in particular, the impact of the existing system on foreign students. RSVP for the conference call to get the call in details and a reminder to join in.
President Obama is deeply committed to fixing our broken immigration system and building a 21st century immigration system that meets our economic and national security needs. The Administration consistently has supported the basic concept that we are a nation of laws but we're also a nation of immigrants. In order to make lasting change, we have to create a system that works for our country.
Throughout our history, the United States has been enriched by a steady stream of hardworking and talented people from all over the world, including many individuals who first came to our country as students. These generations of immigrants have helped make America the engine of the global economy. Because your proposed reform requires changes to existing laws, Congressional action is needed to move forward.
The President has made it clear that our current immigration system requires updating and legislative reform to help strengthen our economic competiveness and create a legal immigration system that meets our diverse needs. In May 2011, the Administration released the Blueprint for Immigration Reform (pdf) outlining the challenges we must tackle and the solutions we must implement if we are to build a 21st century immigration system, including encouraging top foreign talent to stay in the U.S. after they graduate from American universities. The Blueprint states as follows:
“[T]he President supports [e]ncouraging foreign students to stay in the U.S. and contribute to our economy by stapling a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), PhDs and select STEM Masters Degrees students so that they will stay, contribute to the American economy, and become Americans over time.”
The Administration has also taken steps to ensure that talented young people from abroad who are educated here in the U.S. have more time to contribute to our economy through work training or by starting a new business. The Department of Homeland Security has expanded the existing list of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degree programs that qualify eligible graduates on student visas for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension—an important step forward in expanding the Nation's pool of talented graduates and potential entrepreneurs in science and technology fields. By expanding this list of STEM degrees, more of the world's best and brightest will have an extra 17 months to remain in the U.S., beyond the initial 12 months available to all foreign student graduates.
You can help the Administration make lasting change to our broken immigration system. President Obama is calling for a national conversation on immigration reform that builds a bipartisan consensus to fix the broken immigration system so that it works for America's 21st century economy. But he can't do it alone. He is asking you and all Americans, including business leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement leaders and others, to continue the conversation in your community by hosting a roundtable that elevates this important conversation. You can find out more and tell us about your roundtable at www.whitehouse.gov/immigrationaction.
Thank you for making your voice heard. We greatly appreciate your interest and hope that you continue to share your views with the Administration. Don't forget to RSVP for the conference call on February 1st at 1:30 p.m. EST.
This conference call has already taken place. For a wrap-up of what was discussed check out the blog post.
Thank you again for your petition suggesting that the Obama Administration provide lawful permanent residency to foreign students who have earned an advanced degree from a U.S. institution of higher education. Earlier this year, we provided an initial response to your petition and held a conference call to discuss the importance of reforming our immigration system, including the existing system's impact on foreign students. In an effort to continue our dialogue, we are providing an update on new policies recently announced by the Administration.
On Friday, May 11, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced an expanded list of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) designated degree programs that qualify eligible graduates on student visas for an optional practical training (OPT) extension. This builds on the first expansion of STEM designated degree programs in May 2011, as well as a series of administrative reforms we previously shared with you that further the Administration's commitment to attracting eligible graduates and allowing them to apply their new skills to help build an innovative economy.
Under the OPT program, international students who graduate from certain colleges and universities in the United States are able to remain in the country and receive training through work experience for up to 12 months. Students who graduate from a STEM designated degree program can remain for an additional 17 months on an OPT STEM extension. The most recent expansion includes STEM degrees such as aerospace science, veterinary microbiology, quantitative economics, and pharmaceutical sciences, allowing more international STEM students to stay longer in the U.S. and contribute to our economy.
Additionally, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) launched the first phase of its electronic immigration benefits system (ELIS) on May 22, 2012. The goal of the USCIS ELIS system is to modernize the process of completing and processing immigration benefits applications. As a part of this first phase, individuals who come to study at U.S. colleges and universities will be able to create an USCIS ELIS account and apply online for certain changes to their immigration status; USCIS officers will also be able to review these applications online. This is an important first step which will provide more streamlined processing of applications, and will make government more efficient and improve services for immigrants.
These administrative reforms reflect the Obama Administration's continued commitment to encourage highly-skilled international graduates to extend their post-graduate training in the United States and work in their field of study upon graduation. At the same time, however, many important changes can only be accomplished through Congressional action on legislative reform.
President Obama continues to be deeply committed to building a 21st century immigration system (PDF) that meets our economic and national security needs. The Administration consistently has supported the basic concept that we are a nation of laws but we're also a nation of immigrants. In order to make lasting change, we must create a system that works for our country. The President has made it clear that our nation's broken immigration system requires legislative reform in Congress.
We greatly appreciate your interest and hope you will continue to work with us to create a national conversation on immigration reform that builds a bipartisan consensus to fix the broken immigration system so that it works for America's 21st century economy.
Felicia Escobar is Senior Policy Advisor for White House Domestic Policy Council & Doug Rand is the AAAS/Goldhirsh Fellow in the Office of Science and Technology Policy