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Obama’s immigration overhaul to benefit some international students

US President Barack Obama announced his plans to follow through with an immigration shake-up in a televised speech last Thursday, including expanding and extending the federal Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme, which allows international students to work in the USA while studying.

In his address, Obama urged immigrants to "come out from the shadows" and "get right with the law."

"Other countries openly take advantage of restrictive US immigration laws"

The changes mean students studying STEM subjects will be permitted to remain in the USA for up to 29 months after graduating, while non-STEM students are eligible to stay in the country for up to 12 months.

As well as the OPT expansion – which is likely to affect more than 70,000 international students – Obama has also proposed changes for those in line for a green card, which would include many former international students.

“Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us?” said Obama said in his address.

“Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us?”

“Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs here, create businesses here, create industries right here in America?”

In his speech Obama also stated “today, our immigration system is broken” and he urged immigrants to “come out from the shadows” and “get right with the law.”

“What I’m describing is accountability – a common-sense, middle ground approach,” he added.

As well as cracking down on illegal immigration at the border, Obama will make it easier and faster for highly-skilled immigrants, graduates and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to the US economy.

Obama’s broader immigration reform, which is the biggest of its kind since the mid 1980s, is expected to benefit around four million people.

Among those supporting Obama’s actions is NAFSA, which has outlined its own immigration reform priorities that include developing a viable package for green card relief, extending dual intent for students and restoring the authority of the Secretary of State to waive personal appearances by visa applicants.

“As we continue to lose our market share of globally mobile students and scholars to countries with friendlier immigration policies, we particularly applaud the President for recognising the importance of having avenues for students to stay and work here,” said Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA, Marlene Johnson, in a statement.

Speaking to The PIE News, Jill Welch, NAFSA’s Deputy Executive Director for Public Policy, said: “President Obama’s actions are very important because foreign graduates will be more likely to be able to stay and apply what they’ve learned here, instead of being forced to go elsewhere.”

“We need additional proactive policies in order to continue to benefit from all that talented foreign students and scholars have to offer”

“We need additional proactive policies in order to continue to benefit from all that talented foreign students and scholars have to offer,” added Welch.

NAFSA is also calling upon Congress to work in a bipartisan way to create a “realistic immigration system” that can be modernised, and Welch commented that the biggest challenges can “only be fixed through legislation.”

Among the challenges for the US, which has lost 10% of its market share of international students over the last decade, is the threat of friendlier immigration laws elsewhere.

“Other countries openly take advantage of restrictive US immigration laws,” said Welch. “Canada, for example, regularly advertises its more favorable laws in US newspapers and on billboards in our communities.”

“The US is in a global competition for talent”

“The US is in a global competition for talent. We must meet that challenge if we want to maintain a higher education system that attracts the best and brightest to compete in the global marketplace.”

The Senate bipartisan bill on immigration reform passed more than 500 days ago, and the House has yet to act, prompting Obama to outline his own actions last week.

Many have commented that this will be a long process, but that ultimately, Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform.

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