To encourage non-immigrant students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the US Department of Homeland Security, on January 21, 2022, announced that it has decided to add 22 new subjects to its STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for international students.
Students who have F-1 visas can take advantage of the program, which provides them with a temporary job while they're studying in the US. Even though they can already receive 12 months of employment authorisation, this reform will allow international students pursuing STEM to stay in the US for up to 36 months for work after finishing their studies.
The 22 new fields of study are forest resources production and management, general forestry, general data science, cloud computing, general data analytics, anthrozoology, human-centred technology design, financial analytics, data visualization, mathematics and atmospheric and oceanic science, mathematical economics, general data analytics, business analytics, industrial and organizational psychology, geography and environmental studies, geobiology, environmental geosciences, bioenergy, economics and computer science, climate science, earth systems science, research methodology and quantitative methods, and data analytics, and social sciences.
DHS Secretary Mayorkas noted that the knowledge and skills gained by students in the fields of science and technology can help improve the security of the US. Through the expansion of the program, DHS aims to increase the number of international students who excel in the field of science and technology and who are able to contribute to the US economy.
OPT is a popular route for Indian students. According to a study conducted by Open Doors, there were over 80,000 registrations for the program in the US in 2020. The additional fields of study will help the US economy by attracting more students from countries with strong scientific and technological capabilities.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services has issued new guidance to allow certain individuals with advanced degrees in science, technology, and math to use the national interest waiver to qualify for an immigrant visa. Individuals with advanced degrees or exceptional ability can now self-petition for an immigrant visa without going through the labour market test.
The new guidance also simplifies the process for non-US citizens with certain skills, such as those with advanced degrees in science and technology. The agency also issued a policy manual that recognizes the extraordinary ability of non-US citizens in the fields of arts, education, and business. This update provides an explanation of the criteria used to determine the level of potential immigration for those with advanced degrees in certain fields.
Reactions on the New Policy
Many international students and scholars reacted to the US decision to add 22 new fields in STEM to the list of approved subjects for the Optional Practical Training program.
Beth Laux is the executive director of international programs at Pepperdine University. Prior to her position at Pepperdine, Laux worked with the US Department of State. During the recent pandemic, Laux said that as the world's population continues to grow, international education has become more vital. Through the pandemic, Laux noted, the complexity of the global community was highlighted.
Lee Chen, who is an entrepreneur and founder of Global Talent Link, also welcomed the initiative. She noted that it will benefit international students and scholars by allowing them to pursue their dreams in the US.
Laux is a neuroscientist who studied at Harvard. He currently connects international students and scholars with local groups. Although he was pleased with the changes made by the DHS regarding student visa programs, Chen noted that more needs to be done to promote cultural exchanges.
Source: The Times of India
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