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Obama's immigration reform for international students – time to celebrate?

There has been a lot of buzz over the past few days regarding President Obama’s immigration reform that impacts international student visas and their ability to stay and work in the United States after they graduate. This post attempts to clarify the implications of this reform and will help you determine – is it time to celebrate or is there still more work to be done before you can pack your bags and head to the plane. 

Photo credit: Darren Johnson
The facts
It’s best to hear about the reform directly from the source – see President Obama’s speech here.

“Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us?” he asked. “Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America?”

According to President Obama's speech, it seems like a promising time for international students from around the globe to have the opportunity to stay in the United States and pursue a career there. Is that the case?

The president’s executive action provides specific benefits relevant to international students. We have summarized them here for you in an easy to understand manner. The key points are:

  1. Expanding Optional Practical Training (OPT) – students will be able to stay in the US and work for longer periods of time for work that is considered professional training in their field of study (for example - lawyers who graduate from an LLM degree can work for a law firm in the US). Currently, OPT is for a 12 month period. The intent is to extend that timeframe, though it has yet to be determined by how long.
  2. STEM authorizations – students from the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics will be able to stay for even longer periods in the US for OPT. Currently, STEM graduates can get a 17 month extension on their OPT. The intent is to extend that timeframe, though it has yet to be determined by how long.
  3. Spouses of H1B visa holders will have an easier time extending their visas if the H1B holder is in the process of applying to be a lawful permanent resident (LPR).
  4. Entrepreneurs - if you are thinking of building a start-up company or know of a company in the US that would like to hire you, you may be in luck. The executive action seeks to "expand immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment, and generating revenue in the U.S."
Photo credit: "Uscapitolindaylight" by Kmccoy - en.wikipedia
If all of these terms related to US immigration seem unclear to you, go ahead and read our post on student visas to the United States

To summarize, the bottom line is positive for people from around the globe who want to study in the United States. Over the past decades, the US has not established an immigration policy that seeks to bring the best and the brightest to study and then work there. This is a step in that direction.

Only time will tell how much of this reform will be implemented, but you can be cautiously optimistic and continue to follow the developments as it is implemented.
To see how other people are impacted and to hear about learn from their experiences with immigration to the US, visit


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. The President has made a valid point- why encourage competition overseas if you can keep that talent for your own country.

  3. I think you are great writing this, many people probably think the same way.

  4. I wanted to thank you for your time.