WASHINGTON - Foreign students in the United States studying science, math, engineering, and technology can stay in the country 17 months longer if their future employers comply with an immigration verification program of the Homeland Security Department.
The policy change, made public yesterday, will give those who want to work in the United States under a highly skilled worker visa program more time to wait for their applications to be processed. The hitch is that their employers must be enrolled in the E-Verify program, the system employers use to check whether they are hiring documented workers.
Until now, these students had 12 months to be accepted into the highly skilled worker visa program, known as H-1B. Now they will have 29 months to stay in the United States as a student worker.
The change will affect about 23,000 foreign students getting degrees in science, engineering, math, and technology during a time when the United States is creating more tech jobs but producing fewer college and university graduates with engineering degrees.
Part of the new policy is to create a "logical ladder" to citizenship for foreigners who come to this country to study these highly skilled fields, said Homeland Security policy Undersecretary Stewart Baker.
"Lots of people come here to study, and then they say, 'Well, I'd like to get a job,' and pretty soon they find that they and their kids are really thinking like Americans and they want to become citizens," Baker said.