New STEM Fields Added to OPT Foreign Student Work Program

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer July 12, 2023

​Foreign students with F-1 visas seeking work in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) occupation have more options after eight qualifying degree fields were added to the eligibility list.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on July 12 expanded the STEM Designated Degree Program List used to determine whether a degree obtained by an F-1 student qualifies as a STEM degree, which is required for the student to be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of their optional practical training (OPT).

OPT allows eligible F-1 students to obtain real-world work experience directly related to their major area of study. The STEM OPT extension is available to F-1 students who have completed 12 months of OPT and received a degree in an approved STEM field of study as designated by the STEM OPT list.

We've rounded up articles and resources to provide more context on the news.

The New Additions

The STEM list expansion is part of the Biden administration's initiative to attract and retain foreign STEM talent. The following fields were added to the STEM OPT list:

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

(U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Seeking Public Input

In January 2022, DHS initiated a public nomination process for degree fields to be included on the STEM OPT list. 

DHS accepted nominations in four core STEM areas, including engineering, biological and biomedical sciences, mathematics and statistics, and physical sciences, and considered related fields that involve research, innovation or development of new technologies using engineering, mathematics, computer science or natural sciences.

(Federal Register)

STEM Talent Prioritized

In addition to updating the list of academic disciplines that count as STEM, the Biden administration announced a series of policy changes in 2022 designed to attract and retain immigrants with education in STEM fields. The changes include expanding employment opportunities to exchange students in STEM fields, clarifying criteria for "extraordinary ability" visas to include STEM workers, and easing the availability of permanent residence for foreign nationals with a STEM background.

(SHRM Online)

What HR Should Know About the State of STEM

Even amid massive layoffs in the tech sector, STEM skills are in high demand. It's a paradox that many employers are facing—finding themselves needing to cut back on staffing levels while addressing gaps in STEM workforce development.

(SHRM Online



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