Articles Posted in STEM

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A recent working paper published by Harvard economist, William R. Kerr, and Wellesley economist, Sari Pekkala Kerr, is making waves on the subject of immigrant entrepreneurship. The study asks: just how important are foreign-born entrepreneurs to our economy? Are their contributions truly significant?

The study’s abstract reads as follows:

We examine immigrant entrepreneurship and the survival and growth of immigrant-founded businesses over time relative to native-founded companies. Our work quantifies immigrant contributions to new firm creation in a wide variety of fields and using multiple definitions. While significant research effort has gone into understanding the economic impact of immigration into the United States, comprehensive data for quantifying immigrant entrepreneurship are difficult to assemble. We combine several restricted-access U.S. Census Bureau data sets to create a unique longitudinal data platform that covers 1992-2008 and many states. We describe differences in the types of businesses initially formed by immigrants and their medium-term growth patterns. We also consider the relationship of these outcomes to the immigrants’ age at arrival to the United States.

The study is important because it forces members of Congress to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, in order to determine whether or not it is beneficial for the United States to create more opportunities for highly-skilled entrepreneurs and professionals. Regrettably, the immigration debate has largely centered around illegal immigration to the United States, ignoring calls to create more flexibility for highly-skilled immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs. As it stands today, immigrant entrepreneurs can only obtain a green card via sponsorship from a United States employer. The majority of entrepreneurs are forced to remain in the United States on a temporary ‘dual intent’ nonimmigrant visa, until a U.S. employer agrees to sponsor their green card. Visa options are very limited for highly-skilled immigrants. Even for the most brilliant of entrepreneurs, this process requires time and patience. Our current immigration laws are doing us a disservice since they are keeping out some of the most talented entrepreneurs in the world. Immigrant entrepreneurs are increasingly important because the number of businesses and American jobs they create is on the rise.

Here are some of the study’s findings:

  • As of 2008, at least one in four entrepreneurs among start-up companies are foreign-born. Similarly, at least one in four employees among new firms are foreign-born
  • 37% of new firms had at least one immigrant entrepreneur working for the company
  • At least 1 in 3 start-up firms were founded by an immigrant entrepreneur, with an increasing rate from 1995-2008
  • The share of immigrants among all employees working for start-up companies is on the rise
  • Immigrant employees in low-tech positions comprise about 22.2% of start-up companies, while 21.2% of immigrants work in high-tech positions in start-up companies
  • Among new start-ups backed by venture capitalists, 60% had at least one immigrant entrepreneur
  • Immigrant employees working for a start-up company backed by venture capitalists have higher mean average quarterly earnings

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14604464454_ab9f59b1e0_zA new lawsuit has been filed in federal court challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s authorization of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) for STEM students in the United States. The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers is seeking an end to the STEM OPT program because they claim the program is putting American technology workers at a competitive disadvantage. As previously reported, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers had been battling the Department of Homeland Security in court for the past year asking a federal judge to invalidate 17-month OPT extensions granted to STEM students, because DHS violated the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In response, the federal judge had ordered the Department of Homeland Security to publish a new final OPT rule to allow certain F-1 students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics to obtain employment authorization. DHS published the final rule earlier this year, replacing the previous 17-month STEM extension rule that had been in place since 2008. The new rule published by DHS allows certain F-1 students to apply for 24-month extension of their optional practical training program (OPT) in order to continue working in the United States following the completion of their studies. This new rule went into effect on May 10, 2016. The same plaintiffs who challenged DHS are coming forward yet again, this time questioning DHS policy, and alleging that the STEM OPT program is putting businesses first instead of protecting American technology workers.

The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers is a labor union that represents the interests of American technology workers, who they claim are losing out on jobs to foreign workers because of guest worker programs. The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) and the labor union are working together to dismantle the program which they say circumvents American labor protections in favor of cheap labor. In a recent statement the IRLI claims that the DHS exceeded its authority by allowing the STEM OPT program to exist. According to them, “not only does the OPT program create more competition for suitable unemployed and underemployed American workers, but it creates a tax incentive for unscrupulous employers to hire foreign labor over American workers because aliens on student visas and their employers do not have to pay Medicare and Social Security taxes.”

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As previously reported, the Department of Homeland Security published a new final rule that will allow certain F-1 students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, also known as (STEM) fields, to apply for a 24-month extension of their optical practical training (OPT) program. This new 24-month OPT extension will replace the 17-month STEM OPT extension that had been previously in place since 2008. Eligible students can begin to apply for the new 24-month extension starting May 10, 2016. If you mistakenly apply for a 24-month extension before May 10, 2016 you will receive a 17-month extension.

Applicants should note that the cap gap extension has not changed. Individuals who have filed an H-1B change of status application that is currently pending with USCIS, must keep in mind that their status will only be extended until September 30. It is recommended that selected H-1B participants upgrade their petition to premium processing, so that foreign workers in F-1 status do not experience significant gaps in employment. USCIS will adjudicate STEM OPT applications under the 2008 rules until May 9, 2016. STEM OPT extension applications filed and approved before May 10, 2016 will receive a 17-month extension. If you have a pending application requesting a 17-month STEM OPT extension on May 10, 2016 you will receive a request for evidence asking for additional documentation to satisfy the new rule for the new 24-month extension. We have learned that the SEVIS system will be updated so that I-20’s will reflect 24-month extensions.

Students currently on 17-month STEM OPT

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The new replacement rule affecting the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for F-1 students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), has been posted and is now available for inspection in the federal register. The new replacement rule will replace the previous 2008 rule and become effective beginning May 10, 2016.

The new rule authorizes F-1 STEM students pursuing a 12-month Optional Practical Training program in the United States to extend their ‘OPT’ status for a 24-month period. The 24-month extension replaces the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students. The 17-month STEM OPT extension will continue to be effective until May 9, 2016. The new 24-month extension applies only to F-1 STEM OPT students attending accredited United States institutions, whose employers participate in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services E-verify program. Only students in a valid period of post-completion OPT may file for a STEM OPT extension. The 24-month extension, coupled with the 12-month period given with initial post-completion OPT, will give STEM students a period of 36 total months of practical training in their field. Amendments that come with the new rule include additional oversight and improvement of the program requiring formal mentoring and training plans by employers, a new STEM definition and Classification of Instructional Program Categories, provisions on previously obtained STEM degrees, Accreditation and Employer Visits, and OPT compliance. In addition, new provisions have been introduced relating to wage and protections for STEM OPT students and safeguards for American workers as described below.

The ‘Cap Gap’ provision previously available to F-1 STEM OPT students in 2008 remains in place. This provision allows students with a timely filed H-1B petition requesting a change of status, the benefit of automatically extending their F-1 status and employment authorization until October 1 of the H-1B visa fiscal year for which the student has applied. The Cap-Gap was created with intention of avoiding any disruption students might experience in their careers and personal life as a result of temporary gaps in their status.

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As previously reported, the Department of Homeland Security was given a 90-day extension earlier this year, by the Federal District Court of Columbia to issue a new replacement rule for the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program to continue. The STEM OPT program, a program that had been in place since 2008, was invalidated earlier this year following a court order which required DHS to publish a new replacement rule governing the program by February 12, 2016. In response to the court order, DHS requested an additional extension arguing that exceptional circumstances warranted additional time to review the overwhelming number of comments received during the comment period. The court granted the extension, giving DHS until May 10, 2016 to implement a final rule. On March 2nd, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that review of the new OPT STEM replacement rule had been completed. DHS is expected to submit the final rule in the federal register within the next few weeks. The new rule will take precedence over the 2008 OPT STEM rule that had been in place previously. The final rule is not expected to be implemented until May 10, 2016. Once the final rule is published, we will have a better idea of where applicants will stand in relation to pending applications for employment authorization and receiving 7-month OPT extensions.

Please continue to follow our blog for more information. If you require legal advice please contact us for a free consultation. 

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On January 23, 2016 a Federal District Court Judge for the District of Columbia granted the federal government an extension for the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program to resume, giving the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) more time to issue a new replacement rule. The STEM OPT program had been in place since 2008, but was recently invalidated following a court order requesting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue a new replacement rule by February 12, 2016. DHS responded by requesting an additional 90 days to implement the final rule by May 10, 2016.

As part of their request, the federal government argued that exceptional circumstances existed to warrant the extension. This was owed to an unprecedented amount of comments received by DHS, that could not be reviewed and analyzed by the February deadline. According to the Administrative Procedures Act, DHS is required to publish a final rule 60 days before its effective date. During the comment period alone, DHS received over 50,000 comments that were nearly impossible to review and revise by the February deadline. Although plaintiffs for the original suit challenged the court stating that the court did not have jurisdiction to grant the extension, the court agreed with the federal government. The court stated that it did indeed have jurisdiction over the motion and that the undue hardship that STEM OPT participants and employers would experience, absent a new replacement rule, constituted an exceptional circumstance to warrant the extension. It is estimated that approximately 434,000 international students might benefit from the new replacement rule.

Presently, 23,000 students are STEM OPT participants, while approximately 2,300 more individuals are dependents of these participants. Had the extension been denied, thousands of students, their educational institutions, and their employers would be adversely affected. Litigation will continue over the validity and issuance of the replacement rule. If your initial OPT will expire between now and the May 10 deadline, and you are still within the 120-day filing window, you should apply for your 17-month extension as soon as possible, to benefit from the 17-month extension under the 2008 OPT rule. If your OPT will expire on or after May 11, and you are still within the 120-day filing window, you may be able to receive a 17-month extension. Once the new rule is in place and you are outside of the filing window, you will need to wait for the new rule and apply for benefits under the new rule. The new rule is expected to be published by March 11, 2016.

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What is the H-1B Visa? The H-1B visa is a work visa that is awarded on a lottery basis. The H-1B visa program allows American companies and/or qualifying organizations to employ foreign workers to fill specialty occupations temporarily. The foreign worker must posses a combination of education, specialized training, and/or experience that is equivalent to training acquired by the attainment of a U.S. bachelor’s or higher. The H-1B program was first enacted by Congress with the intention of helping American employers seek out distinguished foreign workers, possessing the skills and abilities necessary to perform the duties of the specialty occupation. The H-1B program has remained popular because it has allowed American employers to remain competitive and provides highly skilled foreign workers a path to permanent residence.

The provisions of the H-1B visa program allow qualified foreign workers to attain temporary employment having met specific requirements. H-1B visa recipients typically work in the STEM fields as scientists, engineers, computer programmers, software developers, business analysts, etc. although fashion models are also classified under the H-1B category.

USCIS will begin to accept H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2017 beginning April 1, 2016. April 7, 2016 is the absolute deadline to file an H-1B cap-subject petition. Please note: employers cannot file an H-1B petition for an employee more than 6 months before the employee’s intended start date. If accepted, H-1B visa workers can begin employment by October 1st. The H-1B visa is issued for up to three years but may be extended for another three years.

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The December visa bulletin was recently released by the DOS on November 9, 2015. For the month of December CIS has announced that family based applicants must use the ‘date of filing’ chart to determine when their adjustment of status applications may be filed. This means that for family based preference categories, there are presently immigrant visas available and demand has not yet been met for the fiscal year. Employment based applicants must refer to the ‘final action date’ chart as a basis for applying for adjustment of status. This means that presently there is more demand than immigrant visas available for employment based categories. For the month of December, filing dates have remained unchanged. The impact of the dual chart system will not be felt until CIS requests visa numbers from the DOS in April 2016 for adjustment of status filings based on the October Visa Bulletin. In this post we will discuss new announcements that have appeared on the December visa bulletin and projections for EB-2 India, EB-2 and EB-3 China, F-2A, and F-2B. These projections are based on guidance provided by the Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division, Charles Oppenheim. While they do not guarantee actual immigrant visa availability, these projections are helpful reference points.

Replacement of Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and New Visa Waiting List

The December visa bulletin has announced that the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) used internally by the Department of States will be replaced with 9 FAM-e beginning November 18, 2015. Public release of the new FAM has not yet been announced.

Additionally, a ‘Visa Waiting List’ will be released beginning with the January Visa Bulletin which will provide applicants information on the National Visa Center waiting list starting November 1, 2015.

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International students seeking a STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension must be aware that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not yet published a replacement rule authorizing further STEM OPT extensions, this following a court decision prohibiting DHS from allowing 17 month extensions to be issued. The OPT program allows foreign students the right to seek temporary employment during or following their studies in the United States. On August 12th of this year a court decision invalidated the processing of a DHS rule allowing a 17 month STEM OPT extension program to take place, due to procedural errors. The court’s ruling will be officially enforced on February 12, 2016 in an effort to delay hardships STEM students are likely to experience, and the disruption of employment among technology companies and relevant sectors. The delay also allows DHS to present a new rule before February 12, 2016.

With time running out (4 workdays to be exact) no such rule has since been released by DHS. While DHS has not communicated any changes to international student offices, we expect that any new rulings will have no impact on the initial 12-month OPT program. Until further clarification is provided by DHS, universities are authorized to continue to produce I-20 forms for STEM extensions. In fact, most universities are continuing to accept applications for STEM extensions, regardless of DHS’ failure to publish a new rule within the given time. Students should heed with caution if they wish to file an application for extension, as they may risk forfeiting money spent on such applications. EAD cards already issued under the existing STEM program are considered valid until further notice. DHS mandated employment reports and regular attendance should continue as normal. Students should make sure to abide by the strict unemployment limits of OPT, regardless of these developments.

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