The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has published a Federal Register notice. ICE will expand the potential fields in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT) program. Through the program and its STEM extension, this expansion would significantly improve how many foreign national students qualify to work temporarily in the United States.
Published on July 12, 2023, the Federal Register notice announced that the agency would amend the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) STEM Designated Degree Program List. This amendment would add eight qualifying fields of study. It also establishes which degrees or fields of study students can engage in while on F-1 status and how to qualify for an additional 24-month extension of OPT status.
The OPT status allows foreign national students to work in the U.S. in positions related to their field of study. This practice allows them to gain practical experience. Ordinarily, OPT status only allows students to work for 12 months. However, those in qualifying STEM fields could request an extension of up to 24 additional months.
Before this expansion, the list of qualifying fields of study expanded in January 2022. This update happened when ICE released a Federal Register notice. This Release revealed an amendment to the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List, adding 22 qualifying fields of study. The public may nominate fields of study for consideration for the list and the DHS.
The most recent additions to the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List include:
These updates offer many benefits to international students wishing to study in the United States. In addition to the expansion, recent court actions have left the OPT program more secure. These amendments will likely make students and employers more confident in using the OPT program to recruit skilled foreign workers.
U.S. employers must remember to complete the employment eligibility verification (Form I-9) process when hiring these foreign national students. However, many have found this process complicated due to the many documents the foreign national workers may present.
Investing in an electronic I-9 management tool is the best means to ensure compliance. This tool can guide HR personnel through the process. In addition, it provides services such as secure storage and notifications when to take action.
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