The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has recently announced that it is adding 22 new fields of study to the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program in order to improve the ability of nonimmigrant students to excel in their programs and help support the U.S. economy.
This is good news for U.S. companies that are facing considerable shortages of skilled workers in STEM fields. These 22 new fields increase the ability of employers to acquire a diverse viewpoint in the competitive labor fields and give STEM students real-world experience in their fields while earning an income.
Under the STEM OPT program, F-1 students that are pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in particular STEM fields are permitted to remain in the U.S. for a maximum of 36 months to work in a role related to their field of study. By adding 22 more fields to the list of STEM fields that qualify for this program, employers will be able to avail themselves of these new professionals without needing to go through the H-1B visa application process. The information on these new fields will be made available through a notice on Federal Register for schools and students.
The new fields that will be added are anthrozoology, bioenergy, business analytics, climate science, cloud computing, data visualization, earth systems science, economics and computer science, environmental geosciences, financial analytics, forest resources production and management, general forestry, geobiology, general data analytics, general data science, geography and environmental studies, human-centered technology design, industrial and organizational psychology, social sciences, mathematical economics, mathematics and atmospheric and oceanic science, other data analytics, research methodology, and quantitative methods.
Notably, the DHS will also be issuing new and updated U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy manual guidance. This will provide newly updated guidance clarifying how STEM graduates may be able to use the national interest waiver to receive employment-based immigrant visa classification as an advanced degree professional noncitizen or noncitizen of exceptional ability.
This means that noncitizens that hold an advanced degree or exceptional ability in certain fields may be able to self-petition for an employment-based immigrant visa classification without going through the typical process to test the labor market or receive certification from the DOL, should the DHS determine that it is in the national interest. This new guidance will provide information on how to use the program to potentially obtain permanent resident status in the U.S.
The USCIS will also be updating the policy manual to provide guidance on how the USCIS will determine an individual’s eligibility for O-1A nonimmigrant status. This will include providing examples of evidence that may meet the criteria, including for those in STEM fields.
These changes from the DHS are highly positive for the many employers suffering from shortages of workers in STEM fields. With both new fields and opportunities to find workers, this should help alleviate some of the demand. However, hiring foreign national workers can be a complex endeavor with a lot of paperwork and steps to manage. One of the most difficult of these can be completing the employment eligibility verification process. The best way to make this easier is with an electronic I-9 management tool. This can guide hiring personnel through the process and ensure documents are stored securely for review whenever they are needed.
Learn more about automating your employment eligibility verification and ensuring compliance with I-9 Compliance.