Following President Barack Obama's immigration reform executive action, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson published a memorandum for two agencies heavily affected by the executive order: the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The memorandum from Johnson directed new policies and regulations for businesses and workers aimed to grow the U.S. economy and create jobs. According to Johnson, the actions outlined in the memorandum will "support our country's high-skilled businesses and workers by better enabling U.S. businesses to hire and retain highly skilled foreign-born workers while providing these workers with increased flexibility to make natural advancements with their current employers or seek similar opportunities elsewhere."

The memorandum acknowledged the "extremely long waits" for immigrants to receive visas, or green cards, which is limited due to Congressional action in 1990. Johnson noted "hundreds of thousands" of green cards have not been issued despite heavy demand due to a "compounded" immigration system. As a result, Johnson claimed U.S. employers were prevented from hiring and retaining "highly skilled workers" that may be critical to their businesses.

"U.S. businesses have historically relied on temporary visas -- such as H-lB, L-lB or 0-1 visas -- to retain individuals with needed skills as they work their way through these backlogs," Johnson said. "But as the backlogs for green cards grow longer, it is increasingly the case that temporary visas fail to fill the gap. As a result, the worker's temporary status expires and his or her departure is required."

Johnson's memorandum reformed the current policies by directing USCIS "continue and enhance" its partnership with the Department of State and ensure all immigrant visas are authorized by Congress and eligible during "sufficient demand." The USCIS must also work with the Department of State and be alert when immigrant visas are available to applicants throughout the fiscal year. The memorandum further instructs the USCIS to consider other policy changes to "better assist and provide stability" to businesses.

Johnson also introduced a reformed "optional practical training" (OPT) for foreign nationals studying in the U.S. USCIS and ICE are now tasked to expand degree programs eligible for OPT, which may give the immigrant student an additional 12 months to stay in the U.S.

Johnson's memorandum also affected opportunities for foreign investors, researchers and owners of start-up businesses by having USCIS issue guidance or regulations to better clarify the allowance of certain non-citizens with "advanced degrees or exceptional ability" to seek green cards without employer sponsorship.

Change to an immigrant's job changes were also adjusted by Johnson. Employment-based visa system has created "unnecessary hardships" for immigrants who wanted to change jobs but had risked problems unless their next job was the "same or similar" to its previous role. Johnson wants the USCIS to further clarify the "same or similar" job instructions.

"This guidance should make clear that a worker can, for example, accept a promotion to a supervisory position or otherwise transition to related jobs within his or her field of endeavor. By removing unnecessary restrictions to natural career progression, workers will have increased flexibility and stability, which would also ensure a more level playing field for U.S. workers," Johnson wrote.

The memorandum was sent to USCIS Director León Rodriguez and ICE Acting Director Thomas Winkowski.


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