The Obama administration has made it possible for more foreign students studying in the U.S. on visas to stay and get practical training in their career fields.
The administration expanded the list of science, technology, engineering and math degrees that allow foreign students who earn them to stay in the U.S. up to 17 months after graduating. The students can take internships or a job while they wait for an H-1B visa, a visa for high-skilled workers that lasts for up to six years.
The administration announced the change late Thursday, just days after President Obama gave a speech on immigration in El Paso, Texas. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said the expanded degree list was a step by Obama toward fixing the broken immigration system.
Immigration advocates and Hispanic lawmakers have asked Obama to tweak other immigration rules to stop the deportations of young people illegally in the U.S. and of other immigrants who are not serious criminals or a threat to public safety.
The Obama administration has deported record numbers of immigrants, about 393,000 last year. Meanwhile, Congress has yet to take up immigration reforms providing legal status to some of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally. Obama has said he can't choose which laws to enforce, but immigrant advocates counter there is wiggle room on how to apply some laws.
High-tech companies have asked for improvements to the post-graduation career training program for foreign students over the years to keep talented foreign students in the U.S. The administration of former President George W. Bush expanded the training time from 12 months to 17 months in April 2008.
Businesses and educational institutions then asked that the degree list be expanded, said Gillian Christensen, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman.
Patrick Wilson, government affairs director for the Semiconductor Industry Association, said 50 percent of all U.S. graduates with a master's degree in electrical engineering and 65 percent with electrical engineering doctorates are foreign students.
"We are really grateful the administration has heard the concerns of high tech employers and others," Wilson said.
The change doesn't apply to students illegally in the country, to the disappointment of Carlos Saavedra, who leads the United We Dream Network, a coalition of groups advocating for legal status for young illegal immigrants. The network's list of cases of young people facing deportation has doubled from 15 to 30 cases in the last couple weeks, he said. The group publicizes the cases to help get the immigrants deportation delays.