On the one hand, the president is giving, said Susan Cohen, an attorney at Mintz Levin and head of its immigration practice. On the other hand, the proposals are "tempered." The stronger university ties being sought may be designed to ensure that the students are "actually pursing training," she said.
The OPT program is controversial. Students aren't subject to any wage requirement, and the top school for OPT extensions was a private university with a campus in India. There were 123,000 approved OPT students last year, compared to 28,500 in 2008.
Some argued that Obama had much bigger options, particularly for green cards. He could have required that all 140,000 employment-based green cards go to workers. Today, half of those employment green cards are set aside for dependents of those workers.
The White House, in its announcement, affirmed that it will allow some spouses of H-1B visa holders to take jobs. It has already issued rules and could act quickly to implement the spouse rule. It also said the reforms will make it easier for some green-card holders to change jobs.
But, overall, until the White House releases its proposed rules and guidance memos, its tech immigration plans will include many question marks. "This is obviously the very beginning," said Bob Sakaniwa, the senior associate director of advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Critics believe that the balance sheet of changes, once completed, will give businesses more of what they want.
Ron Hira, a public policy professor at Howard University, said the White House is "trying to appease industry but couldn't do what industry wants, which is tripling of the H-1B program."
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