To support the United States’ economic recovery, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is making immigration changes to attract more STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) foreign talent. To attract more nonimmigrant students to U.S. universities and employers, DHS has:

  1. expanded the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for F-1 students to include 22 new fields of study. 
  2. extended certain STEM OPT visas for F-1 students earning bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees in certain STEM fields will be able to remain in the U.S. for up to 36 months to work in their field of study. 

In announcing the expansion of the STEM Optional Practical Training, DHS Secretary Mayorkas said: 

STEM innovation allows us to solve the complex challenges we face today and make a difference in how we secure and protect our country. Through STEM education and training opportunities, DHS is expanding the number and diversity of students who excel in STEM education and contribute to the U.S. economy.”

The 22 new fields of STEM study that qualify for OPT extensions are:

  • bioenergy
  • general forestry
  • forest resources production and management
  • human-centered technology design
  • cloud computing
  • anthrozoology
  • climate science
  • earth systems science
  • economics and computer science
  • environmental geosciences
  • geobiology
  • geography and environmental studies
  • mathematical economics
  • mathematics and atmospheric and oceanic science
  • general data science
  • general data analytics
  • business analytics
  • data visualization
  • financial analytics
  • other data analytics
  • industrial and organizational psychology
  • social sciences, research methodology and quantitative methods

DHS is issuing new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy manual guidance to clarify how certain STEM graduates and entrepreneurs can use the national interest waiver for employment-based immigrant visa classification as an advanced degree professional noncitizen or noncitizen of exceptional ability. 

What Is A National Interest Waiver?

A national interest waiver is a way to obtain U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card) without an employer as a sponsor if you are engaged in work that benefits the United States economy, education system, health or another aspect of American society. When applying for a waiver, the labor certification, or PERM, process is waived. USCIS takes the following factors into consideration in granting a national interest waiver: 

  • The proposed endeavor has both substantial merit and national importance.
  • You are well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor.
  • On balance, it would be beneficial to the United States to waive the requirements of a job offer, and thus the labor certification.

STEM OPT Extension

F-1 students who have earned a degree in certain STEM fields may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT employment authorization if they:

  • are an F-1 student who received a STEM degree included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List  (PDF);
  • are employed by an employer who is enrolled in and is using E-Verify; and
  • received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on your STEM degree.

STEM OPT Employers

STEM OPT employers must be enrolled in USCIS’ E-Verify employment eligibility verification program and guarantee that the F-1 student will complete a minimum of 20 hours of work per week in their field of study and provide the student with formal training and learning objectives.

What is OPT: The Optional Practical Training Program for F-1 Students

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program allows noncitizens who are in the United States on an F-1 student visa to work temporarily in the U.S. for up to three years if they meet eligibility requirements while maintaining their F-1 status. OPT work experience must be directly related to the student’s major area of study.

Pre-completion OPT:

If you are a full-time student who has completed 1 full academic year at a certified advanced learning institute, you may be eligible for 12 months of OPT if:

  • you completed 1 academic year of full-time study before the OPT start date
  • you have valid F-1 status at the time of application and must maintain your status during the OPT authorization period, including full-time enrollment when required
  • you have OPT time remaining at the current degree level

If you are eligible and authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT, you may work part-time (20 hours or less per week) while school is in session. You may work full time when school is not in session.

Post-completion OPT:

If you have completed your accredited studies, you may apply for post-completion OPT. If you are authorized for post-completion OPT, you may work part-time (20 hours or less per week) or full-time.

Do You Want to Know More About STEM OPT?

If you have an F-1 student visa and want to apply for STEM OPT or a STEM OPT extension; or if you are an employer who wants to hire F-1 visa holders for STEM jobs, an experienced immigration lawyer can help you ensure you meet the eligibility requirements, and complete and submit the necessary applications and documentation.

At Garvish Immigration Law Group, we help international students obtain and extend visas, gain valuable U.S. work experience and evaluate their opportunity to permanently live and work in the United States. We help employers hire global talent and navigate the complex immigration system.

How can we help you? Contact our Georgia immigration attorneys at 1.800.951.4980 or contact us online.

About the Author

Vivien Li
Associate Attorney at Garvish Immigration Law Group | (800) 951-4980 | | Profile | + posts

Vivien Zhihui Li is an Associate Attorney at Garvish Immigration Law Group, LLC in Atlanta, Georgia. Vivien started her law practice with our firm since early 2021, focusing her work on employment-based immigration and nonimmigration petitions, as well as family-based immigration petitions. She is currently a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the State Bar of Georgia.