The Biden administration will expand the Optional Practical Training program to allow more international students to stay in the United States longer to work after graduation, one of a number of policy changes aimed at attracting and retaining global talent.
The White House announced early Friday that it would add 22 new fields of study to the list of majors that qualify for STEM OPT, which permits students to work for three years post-graduation instead of just one.
The change, which adds fields such as bioenergy, climate change, and data science, will take effect immediately, according to a notice
published in the Federal Register.
The new policies will provide more “predictability and clarity” for international students, scholars, and researchers, officials said. “These actions will allow international STEM talent to continue to make meaningful contributions to America’s scholarly, research and development, and innovation communities,” the White House said in a statement.
In addition to the expansion of the popular work program for international graduates, the administration announced a number of other actions that could affect foreign students, among them:
Students on J-1 exchange visas in STEM fields will also be permitted to work in the U.S. for up to three years. Current regulations cap OPT for students on J-1s, which are less common than F-1 student visas, at 18 months.
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will start an early-career STEM research program to bring exchange visitors to the U.S. for research, training, and educational exchange.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will clarify how people with “extraordinary abilities” in science and other fields, including those with STEM PhDs, can better qualify for O-1A work visas, sometimes known as “Einstein visas.”
The department will streamline the process for applying for green cards, allowing applicants with advanced STEM degrees to get a national-interest waiver. Both of these changes could make it easier for international STEM graduates to remain in the U.S. talent pipeline.
Higher-ed groups welcomed the administration’s actions. “The administration is signaling a real recognition of the value of international talent to U.S. higher education, the economy, and our global competitiveness,” Esther D. Brimmer, executive director of NAFSA: Association of International Educators