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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Science Visa Benefits Kept in Place a Bit Longer

(CN) - After vacating visa benefits meant to attract foreign workers skilled in science, technology, engineering and math, a federal judge has given the Department of Homeland Security another 90 days to craft a replacement rule.

The benefits in question extended the maximum period of time Homeland Security gave foreign nationals who came to the United States on F-1 student visas to receive optional practical training.

Though students previously were entitled to 12 months for training during and after completing their studies at U.S. schools, regulators extended the maximum training period in 2008 to 29 months if the student had a qualifying STEM degree, short for science, technology, engineering, or math.

When Homeland Security jammed the benefits into place without going through the usual notice-and-comment procedures required for rulemaking, it claimed that an emergency justified its maneuvering.

If the rules did not take effect immediately, Homeland Security claimed, the U.S. high-tech sector would have lost much-needed STEM workers to foreign competitors.

The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers challenged the rules with a federal complaint, however, and a D.C. federal judge agreed with the group last year that Homeland Security's actions were unjustified.

Since the so-called emergency had long been apparent, Homeland Security failed to show why it waited until 2008 to act, U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle ruled.

Though Huvelle vacated the rule in August, 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."

That stay is set to expire on Feb. 12, but Homeland Security said it needs another 90 days to craft a replacement rule. Huvelle granted the motion for limited relief on Jan. 23.

"The court does not doubt that U.S. tech workers might feel some adverse effect from a ninety-day extension, but it has not been provided with any reliable data to support this proposition, and thus, it finds that the balance of equities clearly weighs in favor of an extension," Huvelle wrote.

Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, a collective-bargaining organization representing STEM employees, claimed that the rule change cost its members jobs since the tech industry can hire foreign nationals for less money.

The group is appealing other issues in Huvelle's original ruling and it objected to the extension. Huvelle said extending the stay would not effect the other claims.

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