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EIG Dispatch | June 12, 2015

June 12, 2015

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Proposed Changes to OPT Program
  • DHS Issues Final Rule on Visa Waiver Program
  • Possible Re-Introduction of Post-Study Work Visas in Scotland
  • Observance of Ramadan Likely to Cause Processing Delays

Proposed Changes to OPT Program

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seeks to change current OPT regulations that would expand Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs for students in F-1 visa status.

The proposed changes would allow F-1 students graduating with a U.S. degree in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) to extend their initial 12-month OPT status for up to two 24-month periods while pursuing their studies. As per present regulations, graduates with STEM degrees are currently eligible for one 17-month STEM extension of OPT.

The proposed changes to expand STEM extensions of OPT will first be published for notice and comments. EIG will continue to monitor the progress of the proposed changes.


DHS Issues Final Rule on Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa for stays of 90 days or less. Travelers must be eligible to use the VWP and have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has finalized interim rules pertaining to ESTA. One significant regulatory change is that the DHS secretary is now permitted to adjust ESTA travel authorization validity periods on a per country basis up to a maximum of three years.

DHS has already implemented other changes to the ESTA program, including the elimination of paper Departure Form I-94W on arrival, and sending email notifications to travelers notifying them as to when their ESTA travel authorization will expire.


Possible Re-Introduction of Post-Study Work Visas in Scotland

Students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) studying abroad in Scotland could see a possibility of post-graduate employment, if the re-introduction of this visa passes in the British Parliament. The reasoning behind re-introduction of the post-study work visa stems from Scotland’s need to provide incentives to attract and retain foreign students to help develop the economy. 85% of businesses as well as Scottish members of the Parliament have shown strong support for the re-introduction of this work visa. If approved, foreign students who graduate from Scottish universities could obtain employment without direct employer sponsorships. Employers could conduct direct recruiting of foreign students for up to 2 years of employment. Implementation of this new work visa is still unknown at this time, as Scottish members of Parliament are currently in discussions with the UK Immigration Minister.


Observance of Ramadan Likely to Cause Processing Delays

Please be aware that the observance of Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr will likely cause immigration processing delays in the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia. Ramadan is expected to begin on June 18, 2015 and last through July 16, 2015.  During this time, travelers should expect immigration processing delays caused by shortened work days, shortage of staff, and office closures for Eid-al-Fitr. Even after the holiday, foreign nationals and their employers may still experience delays due to the backlog of unprocessed applications received during the holiday. Below is a short list of countries where processing delays are expected. Please be sure to check the country’s government websites for the most up to date closures and delays.

Algeria: No official announcements of office closures, but processing delays are expected for initial and renewal applications.

Bahrain: Immigration offices will be open from 8am to 12:30pm AST during Ramadan.

Indonesia: Expect processing delays throughout Ramadan due to shortened work days. Government offices are expected to be closed from August 5 through August 9, though additional closures are possible before and after the holiday.

Malaysia: Expect processing delays throughout Ramadan due to shortened work days. Processing delays are expected to continue for up to two weeks after Ramadan ends.

Morocco: Immigration offices will be open from 9am to 3pm during Ramadan.

Pakistan: Government offices will be open from 8:30am to 2pm PKT during Ramadan.

Qatar: Immigration offices will be open from 8am to 12pm AST during Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia: Immigration offices will be open from 10am to 3pm AST during Ramadan.

Turkey: No official announcements of office closures, but processing delays for both work and residence permits are expected during the last week of Ramadan.

United Arab Emirates: In Dubai, government offices will close at 5:30pm AST. Official offices of the Dubai International Financial Center Authority (DIFC) and Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA) will close at 2pm. Official offices in the Dubai Technology, Electronic Commerce and Media (TECOM) free zone will close at 1pm. The Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) will be open from 8:15am to 1:45pm for the first three weeks of Ramadan and from 10:15am to 1:45pm for the week prior to Eid-al-Fitr. In Abu Dhabi, government offices will close at 6pm.