Sybil Low by Sybil Low
US Expands STEM OPT Program Eligibility for International Students with New Majors

The United States has broadened the horizons for international students pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, by including new degrees under the post-graduate STEM OPT (Optional Practical Training) program. 

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Key Takeaways:

  • The DHS has increased the fields of study eligible for the 24-month extension of the post-graduate STEM OPT program, adding eight new degrees to the list.
  • Students who wish to apply for the STEM OPT extension must complete an “Application for Employment Authorization” and a “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students,” thereby demonstrating that their training aligns with their academic objectives.
  • The announcement may affect qualifying F-1 nonimmigrant students who are seeking a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT.

Recently, ICE and the Department of Homeland Security have announced their plan to roll out the welcome mat even further for students pursuing STEM fields. By doing so, they’re providing greater opportunities for these ambitious students to broaden their education and experience in the U.S. By adding eight new qualifying areas of study, they’re giving more students the opportunity to extend their stay in the U.S. for hands-on learning and training.

New STEM OPT Fields

The newly added fields of study that now qualify for the STEM OPT extension include:

  1. Landscape Architecture
  2. Institutional Research
  3. Mechatronics
  4. Robotics and Automation Engineering Technology/Technician
  5. Composite Materials Technology/Technician
  6. Linguistics and Computer Science
  7. Developmental and Adolescent Psychology
  8. Geospatial Intelligence
  9. Demography and Population Studies.

In their statement, the Department of Homeland Security explained:

“The list is used to determine whether a degree obtained by certain F-1 nonimmigrant students following the completion of a program of study qualifies as a STEM degree as determined by DHS, as required for the F-1 student to be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion optional practical training (OPT).”

Implications for International Students

This development stands to impact international students under the F-1 nonimmigrant visa category who are planning to apply for the 24-month extension of their OPT. Notably, this is the second expansion of the STEM list, with 22 additional fields of study having been added in 2022. The STEM list, which aids the identification of approved degree programs, can be found on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) website and in the notice’s official docket.

The DHS, in a gesture of transparency and public involvement, also indicated that the public can nominate new majors for potential inclusion in, or removal from, the STEM list.

The Rising Tide of the Demand for STEM Graduates

As our world becomes more intertwined with technology, the demand for skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has been skyrocketing. Graduates from these disciplines are not only shaping the future but also commanding competitive compensation packages due to the high demand in the job market. 

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells an interesting story. It suggests that STEM jobs were expected to expand by 8.8% between 2018 and 2028. That’s almost twice the anticipated growth of 5.0% for jobs outside the STEM field during the same period. This demonstrates a tangible, growing need for STEM-skilled workers in the U.S. workforce. Tech jobs, in particular, are seeing rapid growth, with fields such as artificial intelligence and data science leading the charge.

But it’s not just tech. The healthcare industry, another major STEM field, is also seeing substantial growth, driven by an ageing population and the ongoing need for innovative medical solutions. Engineers, too, are in high demand, with industries such as renewable energy and automation seeking their expertise. Moreover, STEM jobs tend to offer higher wages compared to non-STEM jobs. On average, STEM workers earn 26% more than their non-STEM counterparts, a testament to the value placed on these skills in the marketplace. However, the gap in supply and demand for STEM-skilled workers implies that many high-paying, impactful jobs are going unfilled. Unsurprisingly, expanding the STEM OPT program is a welcome move, aiming to fill these gaps and foster innovation by welcoming more international STEM graduates into the U.S. workforce.

Read also:

Can You Describe What a First Programming Job Typically Looks Like?

Apprenticeships Make a Turn in Coding Bootcamps in 2023

The Rise of NYU’s Selectivity in College Admissions

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