NAICU Washington Update

White House Announces a Series of New STEM Initiatives

January 21, 2022

Today, the Departments of State and Homeland Security (DHS) announced a set of new agency policies designed to expand access to opportunities in the U.S. for international students and other immigrant and non-immigrant visitors with expertise in a variety of STEM fields.

First, DHS announced that it is adding 22 fields to the STEM Designated Degree Program List.  These additional qualifying fields of study will allow international students with F-1 visas to apply for an additional two years of Optional Practical Training (OPT).  OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study.

In addition, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) announced an “Early Career STEM Research Initiative.” This initiative is designed to assist non-immigrant BridgeUSA exchange visitors coming to the U.S. engage in STEM through research, training or educational exchange visitor programs with host organizations, including businesses. ECA announced new guidance that will facilitate additional academic training for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields on the J-1 visa for periods of up to 36 months. 

Lastly, DHS is issuing two updates to its policy manual related to “extraordinary ability” for O-1A non-immigrant visas, and how U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudicates national interest waivers for certain immigrants with exceptional abilities in their fields of work.

DHS and the State Department have created multiple online resources to provide additional information on these initiatives, including:

Fact Sheet  
DHS Announcement of Three Agency Policies    
State Department Announcement on Two Agency Policies
State Department Early Career STEM Research Initiative   
State Department Expansion of Academic Training for J-1 STEM grads  
DHS Expansion of STEM OPT
DHS Policy Guidance on O-1 
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is issuing policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to clarify how USCIS evaluates evidence to determine eligibility for O-1A nonimmigrants of extraordinary ability, with a focus on persons in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields, as well as how USCIS determines whether an O-1 beneficiary’s prospective work is within the beneficiary’s area of extraordinary ability or achievement.

DHS Policy Guidance on National Interest Waivers 
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is updating policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to address requests for national interest waivers for advanced degree professionals or persons of exceptional ability.

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