The Department of Homeland Security announced new efforts this week to grow U.S. competitiveness in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by expanding degree programs that allow international students to work in the U.S for a longer period of time.

Under the Optional Practical Training program, noncitizens who graduate from universities in the U.S. are able to stay and work for one year after graduation.

They then must apply for a work visa, a competitive process that puts most students into a lottery.

The OPT program allows F-1 students earning bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees in certain STEM fields to stay in the U.S. for up to three years after graduation to work in their field of study. 

In the latest move by the Biden administration, 22 additional fields of study now qualify for the program, including bioenergy, human-centered technology design, environmental geosciences, and business analytics. 

“STEM innovation allows us to solve the complex challenges we face today and make a difference in how we secure and protect our country,” said DHS secretary Mayorkas.  

“Through STEM education and training opportunities, DHS is expanding the number and diversity of students who excel in STEM education and contribute to the U.S. economy.”

Visas 

New U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services guidance is also being updated to clarify how STEM graduates can use the national interest waiver for employment-based immigration visas. 

Certain noncitizens with an advanced degree of “exceptional ability” can self-petition for employment-based immigration visa classification. 

If USCIS determines that waiving the labor market test is in national interest, the scholars will be allowed to obtain certification from the Department of Labor.

Updated USCIS guidance simplifies how STEM graduates can use the program, making it easier for them to start on a path of permanent resident status in the U.S.