Just a few days into the H-1B visa filing season for the 2009 fiscal year, the Department of Homeland Security announced April 4 that it would be making it a little easier for foreign graduates of U.S. universities awaiting visas.
F-1 non-immigrant student visa holders with degrees in STEM fields (science, technology, engineer and mathematics) were previously allowed to stay in the country for 12 months if they were employed by businesses through an OPT (Optional Practical Training)--an off-campus on-the-job training program directly related to their field of study. The new Homeland Security regulation extends this period to 29 months.
Tech employers are likely to rejoice over this new rule, which reduces the chance that qualified students will be sent home before the company has a chance to hire them.
"This rule will enable businesses to attract and retain highly skilled foreign workers, giving U.S. companies a competitive advantage in the world economy," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in a statement.
"By extending the training period by an additional 17 months to students who are employed by businesses enrolled in E-Verify, we are further ensuring a legal work force in the U.S. and aiding good corporate citizens."
Due to the lightening speed in which the annual H-1B visa supply is exhausted--in 2007, they were tapped out on day one--large tech employers such as Microsoft and Oracle have long complained that foreign graduates of U.S. universities were being shut out of the system. The filing period for H-1B begins April 1, while most students won't have their diplomas until the middle of May.
The rule relaxes some of this pressure, allowing students to apply for their OPT within 60 days of graduation.