Taking Action on Immigration

President Obama is taking new steps to fix America’s broken immigration system.


Streamlining Legal Immigration

“We’re not a nation that kicks out strivers and dreamers who want to earn their piece of the American Dream. We’re a nation that finds a way to welcome them. We make them earn it, but we welcome them in as fellow human beings, fellow children of God. And we harness their talents to make the future brighter for everybody.”

President Barack Obama, November 21, 2014

Our immigration system should reward anyone who is willing to work hard and play by the rules. For the sake of our economy and our security, legal immigration should be simple and efficient. After waiting over 500 days for the House to take action on legislative solutions to fix our broken system, the President took the executive actions to help streamline our legal immigration system until Congress passes common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform.

But these actions are only a first step, only Congress can finish the job. The President’s proposal for immigration reform attracts the best minds to America by providing visas to foreign entrepreneurs looking to start businesses here and helping the most promising foreign graduate students in science and math stay in this country after graduation, rather than take their skills to other countries. It will also reunite families in a timely and humane manner.

The President's Executive Actions to Streamline Legal Immigration

Job Creating

Reducing barriers for immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators.

DHS will expand immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment, and generating revenue in the U.S., to ensure that our system encourages them to grow our economy. The criteria will include income thresholds so that these individuals are not eligible for certain public benefits like welfare or tax credits under the Affordable Care Act.

Providing portable work authorization for high-skilled workers awaiting LPR status and their spouses.

Under the current system, employees with approved LPR applications often wait many years for their visa to become available. DHS will make regulatory changes to allow these workers to move or change jobs more easily. DHS is finalizing new rules to give certain H-1B spouses employment authorization as long as the H-1B spouse has an approved LPR application.

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Strengthening and extending on-the-job training for STEM graduates of U.S universities.

In order to strengthen educational experiences of foreign students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at U.S. universities, DHS will propose changes to expand and extend the use of the existing Optional Practical Training (OPT) program and require stronger ties between OPT students and their colleges and universities following graduation.

Streamlining the process for foreign workers and their employers, while protecting American workers.

DHS will clarify its guidance on temporary L-1 visas for foreign workers who transfer from a company’s foreign office to its U.S. office. DOL will take regulatory action to modernize the labor market test that is required of employers that sponsor foreign workers for immigrant visas while ensuring that American workers are protected.

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Reducing family separation for those waiting to obtain LPR status.

Due to barriers in our system, U.S. citizens and LPRs are often separated for years from their immediate relatives, while they wait to obtain their LPR status. To reduce the time these individuals are separated, DHS will expand an existing program that allows certain individuals to apply for a provisional waiver for certain violations before departing the United States to attend visa interviews.

Issuing a Presidential Memorandum on visa modernization.

There are many ways in which our legal immigration system can be modernized to reduce government costs, eliminate redundant systems, reduce burdens on employers and families, and eliminate fraud. The President is issuing a Memorandum directing an interagency group to recommend areas for improvement.

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Ensuring that individuals with lawful status can travel to their countries of origin.

DHS will clarify its guidance to provide greater assurance to individuals with a pending LPR application or certain temporary status permission to travel abroad with advance permission (“parole”).

Creating a White House Task Force on New Americans.

The President is creating a White House Task Force on New Americans to create a federal strategy on immigrant integration.

Promoting citizenship public awareness.

DHS will launch a comprehensive citizenship awareness media campaign in the 10 states that are home to 75 percent of the overall LPR population. USCIS will also expand options for paying naturalization fees and explore additional measures to expand accessibility, including studying potential partial fee waiver for qualified individuals.

Ensuring U.S. citizens can serve.

To further our military’s needs and support recruitment efforts, DHS will expand an existing policy to provide relief to spouses and children of U.S. citizens seeking to enlist in the military, consistent with a request made by the Department of Defense.

The President's Proposal

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Keep families together.

The proposal seeks to eliminate existing backlogs in the family-sponsored immigration system by recapturing unused visas and temporarily increasing annual visa numbers. The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from 7 percent to 15 percent for the family-sponsored immigration system. It also treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner. The proposal also revises current unlawful presence bars and provides broader discretion to waive bars in cases of hardship.

Cut red tape for employers.

The proposal also eliminates the backlog for employment-sponsored immigration by eliminating annual country caps and adding additional visas to the system. Outdated legal immigration programs are reformed to meet current and future demands by exempting certain categories from annual visa limitations.

Job Creating

Create a “startup visa” for job-creating entrepreneurs.

The proposal allows foreign entrepreneurs who attract financing from U.S. investors or revenue from U.S. customers to start and grow their businesses in the United States, and to remain permanently if their companies grow further, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our economy.

“Staple” green cards to advanced STEM diplomas.

The proposal encourages foreign graduate students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to our economy by “stapling” a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) PhD and Master’s Degree graduates from qualified U.S. universities who have found employment in the United States. It also requires employers to pay a fee that will support education and training to grow the next generation of American workers in
STEM careers.

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Enhance travel and tourism.

The Administration is committed to increasing U.S. travel and tourism by facilitating legitimate travel while maintaining our nation’s security. Consistent with the President’s Executive Order on travel and tourism, the President’s proposal securely streamlines visa and foreign visitor processing. It also strengthens law enforcement cooperation while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives. It facilitates more efficient travel by allowing greater flexibility to designate countries for participation in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of designated countries to visit the United States without obtaining a visa. And finally it permits the State Department to waive interview requirements for certain very low-risk visa applicants, permitting resources to be focused on higher risk applicants and creates a pilot for premium visa processing.

Expand opportunities for investor visas and U.S. economic development.

The proposal permanently authorizes immigrant visa opportunities for regional center (pooled investment) programs; provides incentives for visa requestors to invest in programs that support national priorities, including economic development in rural and economically depressed regions ; adds new measures to combat fraud and national security threats; includes data collection on economic impact; and creates a pilot program for state and local government officials to promote economic development.

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Create a new visa category for employees of federal national security science and technology laboratories.

The proposal creates a new visa category for a limited number of highly-skilled and specialized immigrants to work in federal science and technology laboratories on critical national security needs after being in the United States. for two years and passing rigorous national security and criminal background checks.

Better addresses humanitarian concerns.

The proposal streamlines immigration law to better protect vulnerable immigrants, including those who are victims of crime and domestic violence. It also better protects those fleeing persecution by eliminating the existing limitations that prevent qualified individuals from applying for asylum.

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Encourage integration.

The proposal promotes earned citizenship and efforts to integrate immigrants into their new American communities linguistically, civically, and economically.

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Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.

President Barack Obama
January 21, 2013