To enhance the contributions of non-immigrant students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and support the growth of the economy and innovation, the United States department of homeland security (DHS) on Friday announced that 22 new subjects have been added to the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme for international students. International students on F-1 visas at US universities are eligible for OPT, which is a temporary employment opportunity in the applicant’s major area of study. While all international students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorisation before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their studies (post-completion), the STEM OPT programme permits F-1 students earning bachelors, masters or doctoral degrees in certain fields to remain in the United States for up to 36 months to work in their field of study. OPT is a very popular route for Indian students to work in the US after their studies and, according to a Open Doors survey in November 2020, which tracks international student numbers, there were 81,173 Indian students enrolled for the OPT programme. The Open Doors report in November 2021, however, did not track the latest figures of Indian students on OPT. Adding 22 fields of study will ensure the US economy benefits from students earning degrees in the United States in competitive STEM fields, according to a DHS release. Information on the new fields of study will be communicated to schools and students through a federal register notice. The 22 new fields of study are bioenergy, general forestry, forest resources production and management, human-centred 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, and social sciences, research methodology and quantitative methods. “STEM innovation allows us to solve the complex challenges we face today and make a difference in how we secure and protect our country,” said DHS secretary Mayorkas. “Through STEM education and training opportunities, DHS is expanding the number and diversity of students who excel in STEM education and contribute to the US economy.” DHS is also updating and issuing new US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy manual guidance. The USCIS is updating 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 non-citizen or non-citizen of exceptional ability. Certain non-citizens with an advanced degree or exceptional ability can self-petition for employment-based immigrant visa classification, without testing the labour market and obtaining certification from the US department of labour, if USCIS determines the waiver of the labour market test to be in the national interest.The updated guidance clarifies how to use the programme, making it easier for non-citizens with needed skills, such as STEM graduates and entrepreneurs, to embark on a pathway to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the United States. The USCIS is also issuing a policy manual update related to O-1A non-immigrant status for non-citizens of extraordinary ability in the fields of science, arts, education, business, or athletics. This update explains how USCIS determines eligibility for O-1A petitioners and, for the first time, provides examples of evidence that might satisfy the criteria, including for individuals working in the STEM fields.

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