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Some foreign students get extended stay

By Eileen Sullivan, Associated Press Writer | April 4, 2008

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, announced Friday, will give those who want to work in the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 the U.S. 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 during an interview with reporters.

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