A recent policy memo from USCIS has generated some news coverage. It was, as my colleague David North has noted, a small step in the right direction, but many people have missed important implications of the memo.
The memo in question adopts as USCIS formal policy the ruling in Matter of A-T-Inc. In that proceeding the employer sought an H-1B visa for a 2010 graduate of International Technological University (ITU).
ITU appears to market solely to foreign students and only has graduate programs. The school's "campus map" gives an idea of the nature of the school and on Google Maps, one can see ITU operates out of commercial office space.
Between 2001 and 2004, ITU was accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). The Department of Education no longer recognizes ACICS for the evaluation of schools. However, in 2012, ITU was accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
The question before DHS in Matter of A-T-Inc. was whether the visa beneficiary had earned a graduate degree from an accredited U.S. university so that he would be eligible for one of the 20,000 H-1B visas dedicated to such people.
In 2013, the agency decided for this particular case that the university had to be accredited when the student received his degree for him to be eligible for one of the 20,000 visas. Now the agency is making this its official policy.
Some of the reaction to this policy announcement has been overblown. In itself, this change does not make a major impact to the H-1B program. However, there are two takeaways from this change.
First, it is yet another sign that there is a new sheriff in Washington. Under the previous administration, DHS did everything possible to undermine the immigration system with bizarre interpretations of statutes.
Second, and most importantly, it provides yet another illustration of why "stapling a green card" or "stapling H-1B visas" to diplomas of foreign students is unwise. Whatever exemptions Congress comes up with for graduates of U.S. schools will be exploited by schools like ITU.
The paradox of immigration reform is that it has to be done by the same folks who screwed up the immigration system in the first place. Witness the recent reintroduction of the STAPLE Act by Reps. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).
Their bill would exempt PhD graduates of ITU from the H-1B quotas entirely and would likely set off an explosion of diploma mills operating in nondescript buildings turning out PhD candidates.