US adds 22 STEM courses to OPT Extension

Here’s some welcome news for international students eyeing to study in the US – the Biden administration has revamped its policy in a move to lure foreign talents by adding new STEM courses to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

The change was announced on January 21, 2022, via a Federal Register notice by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “The Secretary of Homeland Security is amending the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List by adding 22 qualifying fields of study,” the notice read.

The OPT is a temporary work program related to the F-1 non-immigrant student visa which authorizes up to 12 months of employment before or after graduation for international students. If you’ve obtained a STEM degree from an American university, you may apply for up to 24 months of extension for your post-study OPT employment under certain conditions.

A total of 22 new STEM courses will be added to the STEM Designated Degree Program List under the OPT. They include emerging fields such as Human-Centered Technology Design, Data Science, Data Analytics, Cloud Computing, and Business Analytics — a sign that the government is tracking the field of study closely.

“I think that the STEM field additions are positive and show that DHS is paying attention to evolving fields of study,” Kevin Miner, an immigration lawyer said. “The recognition given to the highly quantitative field of analytics, which was previously excluded from the OPT’s STEM category, will help retain foreign talents within the American workforce,” he added

Besides fostering economic expansion and innovation, the policy change is part of a strategic bid to overtake China, which has now overtaken the US in the number of undergraduate and doctoral students in fields spurring economic growth, the Times of India reports.

Enrolment of foreign students in US universities had been declining since 2016 and suffered a further blow at the height of the COVID-19 due to health and travel restrictions. The plunge in 2020 was the largest on record, based on data gathered since 1948.

Adding more STEM courses to the OPT Extension is also the Biden administration’s attempt to reverse the anti-immigration agenda left behind by the Trump administration, which sought to slash visas allowing foreign graduates to work in the US after their studies.

A study examining nearly a decade of data on OPT Extension by Madeline Zavodny, an economics professor at the University of North Florida, concluded that the OPT program does not reduce opportunities in STEM jobs for American workers, Forbes reports.

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