DHS, State Announce Regulatory Changes to Attract More International Students and Scholars
January 24, 2022

​​The White House last week announced a number of positive changes to programs for international students and scholars in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). 

As part of changes to federal regulations, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is adding 22 fields of study that are eligible for the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, allowing international students in these fields to stay in the United States and work and receive practical training in their field of study for up to three years after they graduate instead of just one year. In addition, the State Department announced an Early Career STEM Research Initiative and extended academic training for J-1 visas for up to 36 months, up from 18 months.  

Allowing international students to remain in the country and work for three years instead of the one-year limit that applies to non-STEM majors is a welcome move by the Biden administration that will help attract and retain talented students and scholars from around the globe.

The notice posted on the Federal Register amends the DHS STEM designated program list to add multidisciplinary and emerging fields such as bioenergy, forestry, cloud computing, and geobiology to the OPT program.

The administration hasn’t “been able to get comprehensive immigration legislation passed in Congress, but these are all good changes they’re taking under the existing regulatory framework,” ACE’s Sarah Spreitzer told Inside Higher Ed. “None of them are a huge change, but we think they’ll continue to send a welcoming message to our international students and scholars.”

Spreitzer noted in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that ACE and the higher education community have been calling for the administration to take actions such as these, including in a February 2021 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. 

These developments follow the administration’s announcement​ about the reestablishment of the Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council (HSAAC), which will allow for public stakeholder meetings regarding issues impacting international students and scholars.​

In the News

Expanded Options for Some Foreign Students
Inside Higher Ed | Jan. 24, 2022

Biden Administration Makes Visa Changes to Retain Foreign STEM Students
The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) | Jan. 21, 2022