F-1 Foreign Students Need to Choose Their Majors Carefully, to Obtain the STEM Two-Year Extension of Work Authorization

F-1 foreign students with a degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) major are eligible for a total of three years of work authorization, while F-1 students with other majors are eligible for only one year of work authorization. However, there are various definitions of STEM, and USICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has their own list defining which are STEM degrees. Whether a degree qualifies as a STEM degree is not entirely intuitive, and F-1 students need to choose their majors carefully to make sure they qualify as STEM degrees.

USICE (immigration and Customs Enforcement) has a list of all degree programs which fall under STEM, and make a graduate eligible for a two-year extension of OPT (Optional Practical Training), for a total of three years of work authorization. Thus, graduates with STEM majors can seek a total of three years of work authorization, while those with all other majors can apply for only one year of work authorization after graduating. You can check whether a particular major makes you eligible for the additional two-years of work authorization by checking the list at https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/stem-list.pdf. The list is quite broad, and starts out with Agroecology and sustainable Agriculture, and includes many fields such as Animation, Interactive Technology, Video Graphics and Special Effects, Artificial Intelligence, many IT and computer science majors, many Engineering majors, Architectural Drafting, CAD, Biopsychology, Behavioral Sciences, many fields in Psychology, a myriad of Veterinary majors, Management Science, among many others.

What may be surprising is that the list does not include most fields in healthcare, with a few exceptions. For example, the STEM list of majors does not include Nursing, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Dentistry, Speech Language Pathology, Chiropractic, or other healthcare fields. An MD (Medical Doctor) is not included in the STEM list. Thus, however obvious that these degrees are related to science and technology, they are not included on the STEM list, and so those graduates in the healthcare professions are eligible for only one year of OPT and will not be able to get the additional two-year STEM extension.

Biological and Biomedical Sciences, which are included in the STEM program, consist of the non-clinical biomedical sciences and biological sciences. Healthcare professions are not included in this grouping. So, for example, Radiation Biology, CIP Code 26.2209, which is the study of the effects of radiation on living organisms and biological systems, is included as a STEM degree but Radiologic Technology/Science, CIP Code 51.0911, which prepares you to provide medical imaging services to patients, is not a STEM degree.

What are the exceptions? Which healthcare fields would qualify as STEM majors? Various majors in Psychology, Veterinary Science, and Pharmaceutical Sciences all qualify as STEM majors. Pharmaceutical Sciences is a little tricky. Pharmaceutical Sciences, CIP Code 51.2010, qualifies as a STEM major, but Pharmacy, CIP Code 51.2099, does not. However, a Pharmaceutical Sciences degree does not equip you to practice as a pharmacist, rather to work in the fields of drug research and development, drug testing and analysis, or pharmaceutical sales and marketing. A Pharmaceutical Sciences degree does not qualify you to take the licensing exam to be a pharmacist, but a student who wants to be a pharmacist could initially get a bachelor’s degree in Pharmaceutical Science, which qualifies as STEM, and then get their Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm. D.) which does not qualify as STEM. Because their bachelor’s degree is a STEM degree, the graduate would qualify for the three years of work authorization pursuant to STEM, even though his or her most recent degree was in a non-STEM field.   Thus, those wanting to go into a healthcare profession, but who also want the three years of work authorization through STEM, would have to obtain two degrees, one a STEM degree and one in the healthcare field of their choice. Regardless of which degree was the most recent, the graduate would be able to obtain the two-year extension of work authorization due to their STEM degree.

Many TPS Beneficiaries Now Eligible for Green Cards

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Many people who have TPS (Temporary Protected Status) will now be eligible for adjustment to permanent residency even if they entered the U.S. illegally, thanks to a new decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California. In Ramirez et al. v. Brown, the court held that, under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a TPS beneficiary is considered to be in lawful status as a nonimmigrant and has satisfied the requirements for becoming a lawful permanent resident, even though he or she may have illegally entered the U.S. You still need a basis for your adjustment to permanent residency, such as a marriage or other family petition or PERM labor certification and I-140. The Ninth Circuit decision covers only people residing in certain states. In addition to the Ninth Circuit, the Sixth Circuit has also made the same ruling. Thus, this will benefit residents of the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington. The Second and Third Circuits have not yet made any decision on this issue.

TPS is intended for immigrants who are temporarily unable to return to their home country because of armed conflict, an environmental disaster or other extraordinary condition. TPS currently covers certain individuals from El Salvador, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. To be eligible for TPS, you must be a national of the designated country, or a stateless person whose last habitual residence was that country, have been living in the U.S. since a certain date, made a timely application, or meet the requirements for late filing, and not have been convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors, and other grounds.

The Trump administration has announced that it is ending TPS for Haiti as of January 22, 2018. TPS for Honduras is also set to expire on January 5, 2018 as well as TPS for El Salvador on March 9, 2018. TPS for Syria is to expire March 31, 2018. TPS for Yemen is set to expire September 3, 2018. The Trump administration has not confirmed whether or not TPS for any other countries will be extended or terminated as well.

To be on the safe side, TPS beneficiaries should apply for adjustment to permanent residency, if they have a basis for eligibility, such as a relative petition or employment petition, prior to the expiration of their TPS so they will be in legal status on the date they apply.

US State Dept Plans to Gather Social Media Info & Email Addresses from Certain Visa Applicants of All Countries

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On May 4, 2017, the U.S. State Department proposed that the government now be able to request all social media information, email addresses and phone numbers of visa applicants from any and all countries, whom they choose to subject to additional scrutiny. Claiming an “emergency”, the US State Department provided less than two weeks for public comment, up to May 18, 2017. See 82 Fed.Reg. 84 (May 4, 2017).

In addition to requesting all social media information, email and phone numbers for the past five years, the US State Dept would also request information on all siblings, children, spouses, former spouses, and civil or domestic partners, and 15 years employment and residence history. The government would also request 15 years of the applicant’s travel history, including the source of funding for each trip, among other information.

The US State Department has provided the following information for those who want to comment on the proposed rule:

” • Email: oira_submission@ omb.eop.gov. You must include the DS form number (if applicable), information collection title, and OMB control number in the subject line of your message. • Fax: 202–395–5806. Attention: Desk Officer for Department of State. You may submit comments to Bureau of Consular Affairs, Visa Office by the following methods: • You may submit comments to Bureau of Consular Affairs, Visa Office by the following methods: • Web: Persons with access to the Internet may comment on this notice by going to www.Regulations.gov. You can search for the document by entering ‘‘Docket Number: DOS–2017–0019’’ in the Search field. Then click the ‘‘Comment Now’’ button and complete the comment form. • Email: PRA_BurdenComments@ state.gov. You must include Emergency Submission Comment on ‘‘Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants’’ in the subject line of your comment.”

Opportunity to Comment on CBP's Collection of Social Media Info

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You have the opportunity to comment on US Custom and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) collection of social media information on Chinese citizens with 10-year B-1 or B-2 visas. All Chinese citizens with a 10-year B-1 or B-2 visa are now required to register with CBP through the Electronic Visa Update System (EVUS). The list of questions includes “optional” questions regarding an applicant’s social media accounts and use. CBP may extend the EVUS system to citizens of other countries as well.

You have up to May 30, 2017 to comment on the following: 1) whether collection of applicants’ social media information will have “practical utility”; 2) the estimated costs and burden to the federal government; 3) how to enhance the quality and usefulness of the information collected; and 4) ways to reduce the costs and burden of their procedures. Comments should be addressed to the OMB Desk Officer for Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, and sent via electronic mail to oira_submission@omb.eop.gov or faxed to (202) 395–5806.

Millions of people coming to the U.S. from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries are already being asked to “volunteer” their social media information. Regarding the collection of social media information from VWP entrants, the ACLU commented in August 2017:

“The proposed expansion of the existing questionnaire would significantly increase the invasiveness of the information collected not only about foreign travelers, but also about their U. S. citizen social media contacts, and have a chilling effect on their communications. It would also increase the complexity of the visa waiver decision-making process…

The proposed change would collect social media identifiers from millions of individuals deemed least likely to have terrorist connections and would result in the collection of personal information on the tens of millions of social media contacts of those individuals, many of whom would be U. S. citizens or residents…”

This will make the decision to admit someone to the US highly subjective and subject to abusive behavior on the part of CBP officers, not to mention the enormous waste of resources on checking people’s Facebook and other social media accounts. People with B-1 or B-2 visas have already been subjected to extensive security checks and have been found not to be a security risk. As pointed out by Jeff John Roberts in Fortune on December 23, 2016, “would-be terrorists, even dim-witted ones, would be unlikely to disclose their social media profile to the U.S. government.”

President Trump's "Buy American and Hire American" EO Fosters Nativism, Although it Will Not Bring Immediate Change in the Law

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On April 18, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) entitled “Buy American and Hire American”, stating that it will be U.S. government policy to “rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad”, as well as “to maximize…through terms and conditions of Federal financial assistance awards and Federal procurements, the use of goods, products, and materials produced in the United States”. The EO is very short, and while it speaks in broad, sweeping terms, it does not provide any specifics of how this will be implemented. Instead, it requests federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security, to propose new federal rules to protect U.S. workers and to root out fraud and abuse in the immigration system. It specifically singles out the H-1B program and calls on federal agencies to “suggest reforms to help ensure that H–1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”

However, it does not create any immediate legal changes to the H-1B program or to other work visa categories. This would take time, as after making reports to the President, the federal agencies would have to go through the rule-making process whereby they would draft and publish new proposed rules, and allow the public time to respond before issuing a final rule. Or, Congress would have to pass a new law changing the process.

On the other hand, President Trump’s new EO contributes to the negative rhetoric targeted at immigrants, and fails to recognize the valuable contributions that immigrants make to our economy and to creating jobs for US workers. It fails to acknowledge that most H-1Bs are for foreign workers to fill positions for occupations for which there is a shortage of US workers. The federal government has already acknowledged that there is a shortage of American workers to fill positions in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields, and its legislation reflects that. It is better to have a highly-skilled foreign worker come to the US with his or her family to fill a position, than to have that job shipped overseas and out-sourced. Not only would the US lose jobs but also these well-paid foreign workers become US consumers, spending money at local businesses in the community and stimulating the economy. Employers are willing to spend huge amounts of money on USCIS filing fees and other expenses to bring foreign workers here because they just cannot find enough US workers with the appropriate skills.

President Trump’s short EO has certain phrases that have become a mantra among US government bureaucrats, inflaming prejudices against foreigners, and negatively affecting the exercise of discretion in USCIS examiners’ adjudication of cases. USCIS examiners have a great deal of leeway to approve or deny employment petitions on behalf of foreign workers, and with a negative mindset contrary to the facts and the needs of companies and the economy, government workers once again are being encouraged to deny meritorious cases, harming America’s chances of attracting the best and the brightest, and hobbling economic advancement.

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