US Agency Announces New STEM-OPT Fields for Students

US Agency Announces New STEM-OPT Fields for Students

Surya Rathee Surya Rathee
[Published 17 Jul, 2023 | 05:50 AM]
About Author - 3 min read

In a recent announcement published in the Federal Register, the United States has unveiled plans to add eight new fields of study to the STEM OPT (Optional Practical Training) program. This move aims to provide more international students with the opportunity to gain practical work experience in America - especially at a time when other countries like Canada are actively seeking skilled foreign professionals.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have stated that they will be including eight new fields on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List. This list determines which degrees are eligible for international students in F-1 status to qualify for a 24-month extension of Optional Practical Training in a STEM field.

Previously, only 12 months of practical training were permitted.

New STEM-OPT Fields for Students in the US

The eight new fields that have been added to the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List are as follows:

  • Landscape Architecture
  • Institutional Research
  • Mechatronics, Robotics, and Automation Engineering Technology/Technician
  • Composite Materials Technology/Technician
  • Linguistics and Computer Science
  • Developmental and Adolescent Psychology
  • Geospatial Intelligence
  • Demography and Population Studies

The expansion of the STEM OPT program was initially announced by the Biden administration in January 2022, with the addition of 22 qualifying fields, including Cloud Computing, Climate Science, and Mathematical Economics. The public also has the opportunity to nominate fields for inclusion in the degree program list. OPT and the chance to gain practical work experience in their field is crucial for many international students, as it opens doors for potential future employment in the U.S. through programs like H-1B visas and employment-based green cards.

During the Trump administration, there were concerns about potential restrictions on OPT and STEM OPT, leading to uncertainty among international students. Additionally, the tightening of H-1B visa regulations likely resulted in an increased number of international students choosing to attend universities in Canada and other countries.

In Canadian universities, the enrolment of Indian students as international students has seen a significant rise of 182% between the 2016/17 and 2019/2020 academic years. The number of Indians immigrating to Canada has also tripled since 2013.

This expansion of the STEM OPT program comes after recent court rulings in favor of universities and international students, solidifying the program's legal standing. The decision to widen the fields eligible for STEM OPT is aimed at retaining highly skilled individuals in the United States, given that Canada and other countries have introduced initiatives to attract foreign talent.

This development also provides more opportunities for international students to gain valuable work experience in the United States - thereby enhancing their career prospects and fostering global talent exchange.

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