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What Obama’s Immigration Actions Mean For Tech Workers

Sandeep Chandra and Pallavi Adyanthaya have been watching the debate surround...

Photo by David Wagner

Above: Sandeep Chandra and Pallavi Adyanthaya have been watching the debate surrounding immigration reform closely. They haven't heard many people addressing the problems they face as high-skilled immigrants.

President Barack Obama announced plans Thursday to protect certain undocumented immigrants from deportation, but he also outlined plans for drawing high-skilled workers into the country.

The White House plans to expand and extend the Optional Practical Training program. These visas could allow more foreign students graduating from U.S. schools to temporarily stay in the country and work in tech fields.

"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?" Obama asked in a televised speech.

"Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America?"

But high-skilled workers already in the country say it's unclear what his plan holds for their immigration process.

"It doesn't help my situation," said Sandeep Chandra, shortly after the president's address.

Originally from India, Chandra now works at the San Diego Supercomputer Center on an H-1B visa. He's been in line for a green card since 2008 and didn't hear the president outline any firm plan to put him closer to getting one.

"There are people like me who've been here for 14 years now and still haven't gotten their immigration done," said Chandra, "because the process has been so slow."

The president's plan also did not give tech companies the increase in the numbers of H-1B visas they've been asking for.

San Diego-based Qualcomm is one of the nation's top H-1B employers. Ahead of the president's address, Qualcomm CFO George Davis said:

Our focus really is on H-1B visas and trying to expand the number of talented technical professionals that can come to the U.S. ... The way the regulations are drafted today there's a lot of room for improvement.

The company has advocated for high-skilled immigration reform, but it could not be reached by phone for this story.

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