As part of the Biden Administration’s initiative to retain high-skilled foreign nationals in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it is adding eight new fields as qualifying fields of study for STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) Optional Practical Training (OPT).
STEM OPT is a 24-month extension of Optional Practical Training work authorization available to students who have completed 12 months of OPT and received a degree in an approved STEM field. The students must be involved in a training program and, as the quid pro quo for the 24-month extension, the company must register for and use E-Verify to check new employees’ work authorization.
The new STEM fields are:
- Landscape Architecture
- Institutional Research
- Mechatronics, Robotics, and Automation Engineering
- Composite Materials Technology/Technician
- Linguistics and Computer Science
- Developmental and Adolescent Psychology
- Geospatial Intelligence
- Demography and Population Studies
Last year, DHS added 22 fields to the list and gave instructions on how the public could nominate new fields. Since then, DHS received 285 nominations representing 120 unique fields. From that, DHS selected eight, but it noted that nominations could be resubmitted with additional evidence. DHS evaluates nominations based on input from educational institutions, governmental entities, and non-governmental entities. It also reviews submitted information about the required curriculum to determine if the specific field of study is comprised of core STEM disciplines and meets the “related field” criteria of “involving research, innovation, or development of new technologies using engineering, mathematics, computer science, or natural sciences (including physical, biological, and agricultural sciences).” The full list of qualifying STEM fields is on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) website. Under the 2016 final rule establishing the 24-month extension of OPT for F-1 students who majored in designated STEM fields of study, DHS may publish updates to the STEM list in the Federal Register.
The Biden Administration has taken several actions to attract STEM talent to strengthen the U.S. economy and its competitiveness, including the Early Career STEM Research Initiative, which expands the J-1 cultural exchange program to include STEM businesses who wish to host students, interns, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, specialists, and trainees. Last year, DHS updated its policy manual to clarify how it determines eligibility for nonimmigrants and immigrants seeking classification as a person of extraordinary ability in STEM fields.
A court challenge to the OPT and STEM OPT programs remains ongoing.