Administration rolls out new immigration regs

The Obama administration moved Tuesday to allow spouses of foreign workers to take jobs in the United States as part of a slate of new draft immigration regulations.

A pair of rules proposed by the Department of Homeland Security also would make it easier for highly skilled workers from certain countries to remain in the U.S. 

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Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the actions would be a boon to American companies who rely on foreign workers, and would serve as a magnet for additional investment in U.S. firms.

“These steps will help the U.S. maintain competitiveness with other countries in our efforts to attract the best and the brightest high-skilled workers from around the world to support companies here at home,” Mayorkas said.

“Businesses continue to need these high-skilled workers, and these rules ensure we do not cede the upper hand to other countries competing for the same talent.”

Under current regulations, highly skilled foreign workers in fields including science, engineering or computer programming may be allowed to live and work in the U.S. via an H-1B visa. Their spouses, given H-4 visa status, may come and stay in the U.S. lawfully, but cannot be employed.

One of the rules proposed Tuesday would allow those dependent spouses to request employment authorization, as long as the H-1B visa holder to whom they are married has started the process of becoming a permanent U.S. resident.

The second draft rule is designed to ease restrictions for other classes of highly skilled workers, specifically those hailing from Chile, Singapore and Australia. 

The proposed regulations, for instance, would end requirements that those professionals — already given H-1B1 or E-3 visas — must apply separately to the DHS for permission to work.

Further, the rule would give those workers as many as 240 days of employment authorization beyond current expiration dates in cases when an extension request is pending.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said the rule changes are necessary to “unleash” powerful economic contributions from foreign workers.

“The fact is, we must do more to retain and attract world-class talent to the United States and these regulations put us on a path to doing that,” Pritzker said.

The rules will be published soon in the Federal Register starting the clock on a public comment period meant to solicit feedback on the plan before final regulations are issued.