Biden Administration Announces Expansion of Immigration Policies to Benefit STEM Students, Scholars and Researchers

Gibney Anthony & Flaherty, LLP

The Biden-Harris Administration announced an expansion of immigration policies to benefit Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degree students and graduates, in a stated effort to strengthen the U.S. economy and competitiveness. The new policies affect the F-1 student, J-1 exchange visitor, and O-1 extraordinary ability nonimmigrant visa categories, as well as the EB-2 National Interest Waiver immigrant visa category.


F-1 students are typically eligible for up to one year of post-graduate Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows the F-1 student to gain practical work experience related to their degree.  F-1 students who graduate with a STEM degree are eligible for an additional two years of OPT (STEM OPT). The Biden-Harris Administration has now expanded the list of academic fields that qualify as STEM degrees with 22 new fields of study added, and thus, a greater number of F-1 students will be eligible for STEM OPT.


  • New initiative for J-1 scholars, specialists, students, interns, trainees, teachers, and professors: The Biden-Harris Administration announced its Early Career STEM Research Initiative, in partnership with BridgeUSA to facilitate the matching of organizations with STEM Exchange Visitors. The initiative aims to increase the number of STEM-focused educational and cultural exchanges.
  • Extension of academic training for J-1 students: J-1 undergraduate and pre-doctoral students are a typically eligible for up to 18 months of post-graduate academic training, which allows the J-1 student to gain practical experience related to their degree.  The Biden-Harris Administration announced it will now allow academic sponsors to request STEM-related academic training for up to 36 months for college and university students pursuing STEM undergraduate or pre-doctoral degrees and recent graduates who seek to commence academic training no later than 30 days after completion of their STEM-related studies. The extension of academic training applies to the current (2021-22) and subsequent (2022-23) academic years.


USCIS updated its Policy Manual to clarify eligibility determinations and provide examples of evidence that petitioners may submit on behalf of foreign nationals seeking O-1 extraordinary ability visa classification.  The policy update:

  • Expands the circumstances in which petitioners may submit comparable evidence to the listed regulatory criteria, and allows adjudicating officers to consider any potentially relevant evidence in making the final adjudication. Examples include: journal impact factors, total rate of citations relative to others in the field, research experience with leading institutions, and unsolicited invitations for the beneficiary to present at nationally or internationally recognized conferences.
  • Provides for a broader interpretation of the field of expertise and area of extraordinary ability, allowing adjudicating officers to consider accomplishments in related occupations involving shared knowledge and skillsets.


In an update to its Policy Manual, USCIS:

  • Provides an overview of the three-prong analysis used to adjudicate requests for a national interest waiver of the job offer and the permanent labor certification requirement – and accompanying test of the labor market.  Although the policy does not change the analysis prongs used in prior adjudications, the expanded overview addresses how officers should review evidence under each prong.
  • Elaborates on specific evidentiary considerations for STEM fields.  Of note, USCIS will consider an advanced degree in a related STEM field, particularly Ph.D., as an “especially positive factor”.
  • Directs officers to recognize the importance of critical and emerging technology fields, including those published by the National Science and Technology Council or the National Security Council.
  • Provides that officers should consider letters from interested US government agencies or federally funded research centers of particular weight for substantiating benefit to the national interest.


The expansion of STEM initiatives across the F-1, J-1, and O-1 visa categories, as well as National Interest Waiver petitions, is a welcome development that provides additional pathways for STEM students and researchers to continue ongoing research efforts in the U.S. As emphasized by the White House, the revisions to the policy manual relating to O-1 and National Interest Waiver petitions are expected to facilitate clarity and predictability in adjudications.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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