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US Government’s New Immigration Policies Give a Direct Pathway to International STEM Students


On January 21, 2022, the US Government announced new immigration policies that will give a direct pathway to international students of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to study and complete professional training with an employer in the US. Government officials believe that this will help American companies solve their workforce shortage problems and it also will also help ease the decline in higher education enrollments.

The US Department of State and Homeland Security will add a total of 22 new fields of study to the STEM Designated Degree Program List under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows graduates in STEM fields to remain in the US for three years after they graduate and to gain practical work experience related to their degree. Students with an F-1 visa are typically eligible for up to one year of post-graduate OPT. However, for those who graduate with a STEM degree are eligible for an extra two years of OPT — STEM OPT. The 22 newly added fields of study include human-centered technology design, data science, data analytics, cloud computing, and business analytics. 

In addition, there is an early career STEM research initiative for scholars, specialists, students, interns, trainees, teachers, and professors with a J-1 visa. J-1 undergraduate and pre-doctoral students are currently eligible to stay in the US for up to 18 months to undertake post-graduate academic training. The US Department of State has announced that undergraduate and graduate students on exchange visitor J-1 visas in STEM fields will be able to double the amount of time and stay in the US for up to 36 months to undertake post-graduate academic training. 

Concurrently, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated its policy manual to give a wider interpretation of what constitutes STEM expertise and areas of extraordinary ability. It allows immigration officers to determine visa eligibility and it provides additional examples, which give professionals in STEM fields a clearer understanding of more types of evidence they can submit when applying for an O-1 visa. An O-1 visa is available to people with extraordinary ability or performance in the fields of science, business, education, or athletics, and now, for example, journal impact factors, relative citations, research experience with notable institutions, and unsolicited invitations to speak or present research at scientific conferences, are included in the listed regulatory criteria that applicants can submit.