The Department of Homeland Security has announced an increase in the number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs that qualify eligible graduates on student visas for an extension of optional practical training. The increase is an expansion of eligible subject areas to include pharmaceutical sciences, quantitative economics and behavioral sciences, amongst many others. The full list of STEM designated programs (new additions in bold type) is here. The expansion of the program is a continuation of efforts by the department to attract international students.
“Attracting the best and brightest international talent to our colleges and universities and enabling them to contribute to their professional growth is an important part of our nation’s economic, scientific and technological competitiveness,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. “International students and exchange visitors bring invaluable contributions to our nation, and this helps empower the next generation of international entrepreneurs, right here in America.”
The OPT program allows international students who graduate from American universities to remain stateside and receive work experience training for up to 12 months. However, graduates from designated STEM programs also qualify for an additional 17 month OPT STEM extension.
The DHS website states that these reforms reflect the Obama administration’s commitment to embracing talented students from foreign countries.
NAFSA: Association of International Educators welcomed the expansion action having long advocated an increase in the list of STEM degree programs. NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene Johnson is hopeful that the STEM designated initiative can soon be scrapped in favor of a fully inclusive OPT extension for foreign students.
From a 2008 letter from Johnson to the DHS:
“It would be optimal to make OPT extension available to all international students; we are hopeful that the successful implementation of [the rule adding 17 months of OPT for certain STEM degree graduates] will lead to the expansion of OPT extension to all fields in short order.” Meanwhile, Johnson wrote, a revision of the DHS list of eligible STEM degree programs was needed.
Earlier this year the DHS announced measures to streamline the process for immigrant entrepreneurs wishing to enter the US and create businesses. The DHS website stating that President Obama was committed to adapting the immigration system to meet modern security and economic needs.
The President supports legislative measures that would attract and retain immigrants who create jobs and boost competitiveness here in the U.S., including creating a “Startup Visa,” strengthening the H-1B program, and “stapling” green cards to the diplomas of certain foreign-born graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
The DHS plans to continue to monitor and review emerging fields for possible inclusion in the STEM designated degree program.