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President Obama recently announced a series of Executive Actions that make several important administrative changes in the immigration process that will impact employers and foreign nationals alike in several important ways. The Executive Actions create a new deferred action program for certain parents of U.S. citizens; expand the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; increase the work options for spouses of certain visa holders; and seek to expand the visa options for highly-skilled immigrants. 

1. Deferred Action Programs

Expanding the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program

First, the new changes expand the DACA program that allowed immigrants who were brought into the United States when they were under the age of 16, resided here since June 2007, were under 31 years of age as of June 2012, who were not convicted criminals, and who were either high-school graduates or were still attending school to apply for temporary relief and work authorization. Now, the DACA cutoff date will change from June 2007 to January 2010 and still apply to anyone who was brought here under the age of 16.

Creation of a Deferred Action Program for Parents

Additionally, the Executive Action will create a new deferred action program for parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent resident(s) (LPRs) as of November 20, 2014 who have been in the U.S. since January 1, 2010. These individuals will be similarly eligible to request temporary relief from deportation. Many of these individuals will also be eligible to receive work permits.

The government anticipates accepting applications under the deferred action program changes in early 2015, but those interested can take several steps now to prepare for the application process. Specifically, you can prepare by gathering documents that establish your identity, relationship to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and show that you have continuously lived in the U.S. for 5 years or more. People in both groups will have to reapply every three years. 

2. Work Authorization for High-skilled Workers Awaiting LPR Status and Their Spouses

Currently, employees with approved Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) applications often wait many years for their visas to become available. The Executive Action will make regulatory changes to allow these workers to move or change jobs more easily. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is also finalizing new rules to give certain H-1B spouses employment authorization as long as the H-1B spouse has an approved LPR application.

Similarly, the new regulations will reduce family separation for those waiting to obtain LPR status. DHS is expanding the LPR process to allow individuals to apply for a provisional waiver for certain violations before departing the United States to attend visa interviews. Additionally, DHS will clarify its rules to make it easier for individuals with a pending LPR application or certain temporary status permission to travel abroad with advance permission (i.e., parole).

3. Student, L-1, and Investor Visas

Foreign students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at U.S. universities will be impacted by these changes as DHS is in the process of expanding and extending the use of the existing Optional Practical Training program. President Obama also ordered DHS to clarify its guidance on temporary L-1 visas for foreign workers who transfer from a company's foreign office to its U.S. office. The Department of Labor will take regulatory action to change the labor market test that is required of employers that sponsor foreign workers for immigrant visas. Finally, DHS is drafting new regulations for foreign investors.

The range of actions discussed above have different timelines for implementation. The deferred action programs could be up and running in early 2015, but the tech and entrepreneur visa waivers will need to go through a rule making process, which could last from one year to eighteen months.

We will provide expansive coverage on this topic as the new regulations become available. Please frequently check for updates on our blog or contact our immigration team with any questions or concerns:

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