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The Obama administration wants to let nearly 100,000 spouses of foreigners working in high-tech fields to work here as well in a move critics say is harmful to nearly 10 million jobless Americans.

The administration also hopes to ease the process for foreign professors and researchers who are trying to extend their stays in America.

The proposed changes, announced Tuesday by Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, come as high-tech companies and university officials continue pressing Congress and the Obama administration to ease restrictions that they say make it difficult to import highly skilled foreign workers.

Groups like FWD.us, created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and other tech organizations are lobbying Congress for expanded visa programs they use to hire foreign workers.

Mayorkas said the proposed rule changes keep America competitive as more countries offer incentives to attract the workers.

'The proposed rules announced today provide important support to U.S. businesses while also supporting economic growth here in the U.S.,' he said. 'This enhances our country's competitiveness to attract skilled workers from other countries.'

But critics accuse the pro-visa groups of wanting cheap labor, and say Obama should be helping U.S. citizens get jobs rather than making it easier for foreigners to expand their employment opportunities in the United States.

'The U.S. already provides businesses with 700,000 temporary guest workers every year to compete against unemployed Americans, in addition to the annual flow of 1 million permanent legal immigrants,' said Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who has opposed efforts to import more foreign workers.

'The administration's unilateral decision to increase that number will hurt already-struggling American workers.'

The proposed changes will be published in the Federal Register this week and then be open to 60 days of public comment before the administration can implement them.

The first proposed change affects holders of H-1B visas, which are granted to foreigners trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Current rules allow their spouses to move to the U.S. with them, but restricts them from working.

The new rule would allow the spouses of those H-1B holders who are in the process of applying for a green card to find work.

Mayorkas estimated that 97,000 people could benefit from that rule change in the first year, and 30,000 each year after.

The second proposed change focuses on a series of visa holders who come from Chile, Singapore, Australia and the Northern Mariana Islands. Current rules allow workers from those countries who have at least a bachelor's degree in a specialized field to extend their stay, but they must produce certain evidence of the success they've had. The proposed change would extend the time those workers could stay in the U.S. and allow them to use new forms of evidence to win their stay in the U.S.

Mayorkas and Pritzker said the changes will help U.S. business and universities retain the workers they need, but they stressed that Congress needs to find a broader immigration solution to address all the deficiencies in the system.

'As the president said in his State of the Union Address, we are committed to achieving a lasting solution,' Pritzker said. 'Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle can make this happen.'

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