Regulators Grilled on Science Visa Benefits

     (CN) – In a new federal complaint over visa benefits meant to attract foreign scientists, a group of U.S. technology workers says the Department of Homeland Security exceeded its authority.
     The suit in D.C. actually marks the second challenge by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, a collective-bargaining organization representing workers with STEM degrees, short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
     Foreign nationals who come to the United States on F-1 student visas have historically been entitled to stay in the country for an additional 12 months after completing their studies for optional practical training, but Homeland Security sweetened the deal for students with qualifying STEM degrees in 2008.
     The alliance balked in 2014 because Homeland Security did not go through the usual notice-and-comment procedures before extending the maximum training period to 29 months.
     Though Homeland Security claimed that an emergency justified its maneuvering, a federal judge said the so-called emergency had long been apparent, so there was no need to rush the regulations.
     Though U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle vacated the rule last year, she stayed the order until February 2016, worried that the technology sector and the foreign students here on F-1 visas would be unduly disrupted if “thousands of young workers had to leave their jobs in short order.”
     Homeland Security won more time to craft a replacement rule, but the alliance has taken issue with it as well in a new complaint.
     The June 17 complaint says Homeland Security’s new rule “revives” the 2008 extension, “with minor wording changes and a longer work period.”
     Whereas the former rule offered a 17-month work extension for graduates in STEM fields, the new rule carries a 24-month extension, the alliance says.
     It also contends that once again the government has failed to give public notice before making the changes.
     “The 2016 OPT Rule constructively reopens the policy of allowing aliens to work after graduation to a challenge that the policy is contrary to law because previous regulations establishing such a policy were made without giving public notice,” according to the complaint.
     Homeland Security also exceeded its authority, according to the complaint.
     “The question of whether the authorization of aliens to work after graduation on student visas under the 2016 OPT Rule is within DHS statutory authority is inseparable from the question of whether the policy of allowing aliens to work on student visas after graduation is within DHS statutory authority because the question of whether a non-student alien may work on a student visa is the same regardless of the duration of time the alien is permitted to work,” the complaint states. Washington Alliance is represented John Miano.

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