Sector welcomes new US STEM OPT guidance

The departments of immigration and customs enforcement and homeland security indicate that “the list is used to determine whether a degree obtained by certain F-1 non-immigrant students following the completion of a program of study qualifies as a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (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).”

DHS had previously published the addition of 22 qualifying fields of study to the STEM list in 2022.

Leaders in international education in the US shared their reaction with The PIE News about the impact the new guidance will likely have on recruitment and retention of international students.

Jill Blondin, associate vice provost for global initiatives at Virginia Commonwealth University told The PIE this is a positive move, “as it increases opportunities for students as it prepares them for cutting-edge, in-demand fields.”

Jane Gatewood believes this news serves as a reflection of the innovation of US universities in their academic and research programs.

“I’m pleased to see DHS expand STEM OPT to include more disciplines, as promised by the Biden administration.

“It’s no secret that international students factor future employment opportunities into their educational decisions, and STEM OPT options help attract and retain key talent to the US economy,” Gatewood, vice provost for global engagement at the University of Rochester, continued.

She said these factors were critical in the Simon School of Business at University of Rochester when they pursued the STEM OPT classification for their MBA program several years ago, being the first business school to do so.

Kalpen Trivedi, vice provost for global affairs and director of the international programs office at University of Massachusetts Amherst concurred, telling The PIE he’s “very glad” to see eight new programs added to the eligible list.

“[The list] including landscape architecture, institutional research, and linguistics and computing… will continue to benefit our students, our institutions, and our economy,” he said.

“It’s no secret that international students factor future employment opportunities into their educational decisions”

Trivedi also noted the new guidance “not only provides an important pathway to valuable work experience for international students, but also helps to secure the US’s talent and human capital pipeline by allowing the best and the brightest who have been trained in our universities to access the H1B lottery.”

Likewise, Jon Stauff, assistant vice president for international affairs at South Dakota State University, said he welcomes the recent expansion.

Stauff said it will likely serve to gain “not just the disciplinary expertise of these graduates in our workforce”, but also the “cultural competencies they will share with their employers and their communities during their OPT experiences”.

“The contributions these students will make will strengthen our state’s industrial sector and enhance our competitiveness in the region and the nation,” he concluded.


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