Increase in List of STEM-Designated, Degree-Eligible Subjects
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a news release on May 12, 2011 announcing that ICE has added new degree programs to the list of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees eligible for the 17-month optional practical training (OPT) extension for F-1 students. Many students will be pleased to learn that more than thirty new STEM fields have been added to the list.
As regular MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers may recall, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an Interim Final Rule on April 8, 2008, which established the eligibility criteria for a 17-month OPT extension for F-1 students. An analysis of the Interim Final Rule was provided in our news article, F-1 OPT Interim Final Rule of April 8, 2008 - Summary and Analysis (09.Apr.2008). Eligibility for this extension beyond the standard 12-month OPT period is limited to individuals with degrees in designated STEM fields and in cases where employers are enrolled in the E-Verify program.
AILA and NAFSA Request STEM Expansion of Subjects
The expansion of the student OPT benefits introduced by the Interim Final Rule prompted comments from many professional organizations and individuals, including the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, which urged ICE to open the list of designated STEM fields to other degree programs. The initial list omitted many common STEM disciplines. The new list of acceptable degree programs eligible for OPT extension includes more than 30 new fields. This list includes: environmental science, pharmaceutics and drug design, neuroscience, mathematics and computer science, medical informatics, and other previously omitted programs.
This revision of the list of the designated degree programs significantly increases the number of students who may benefit from additional practical experience in the United States after the completion of their study. The list is available online.
Conclusion: Expansion of STEM List is a Positive Development
Inclusion of new STEM degrees in the list of designated programs eligible for the 17-month extension is a positive, long-anticipated development. There were important STEM programs that previously were omitted, in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. The expansion was not as broad as immigration proponents suggested, but it is a positive effort to include a fuller range of STEM disciplines. Any student who is not certain about his/her eligibility should contact the designated school official (DSO) or a knowledgeable immigration attorney to determine whether there is a way to benefit from the extended list for the OPT extension.
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