Tag Archives: OPT

DHS Expands STEM OPT Fields to Attract Global Talent

In order to maintain global competitiveness, the Department of Homeland Security has announced several policy guidance shifts to encourage those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields to contribute to the U.S. economy. DHS announced 22 additional fields of study that now qualify for the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program going forward, which allows students to work in a field that is directly related to his or her degree. Related to that announcement, DHS also issued new guidance for how USCIS evaluates O-1A petitions for individuals of “extraordinary ability” in STEM fields, as well as how certain individuals may qualify for a National Interest Waiver (NIW) for employment-based permanent residence. This would allow certain noncitizens with advanced degrees or exceptional ability to petition for an employment-based category without obtaining certification from the Department of Labor. USCIS claims this will make it easier for individuals such as STEM graduates and entrepreneurs to obtain lawful permanent residence status.

From USCIS, 1/21/2022

DHS Expands Opportunities in U.S. for STEM Professionals: Department adds Twenty-Two New Fields of Study and Takes Additional Steps to Attract Critical STEM Talent

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today announced 22 new fields of study have been added to the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program to enhance the contributions of nonimmigrant students studying in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and support the growth of the U.S. economy and innovation.

“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 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 U.S. economy.”

The STEM OPT program permits F-1 students earning bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees in certain STEM fields to remain in the United States for up to 36 months to work in their field of study.  Adding 22 fields of study will ensure the U.S. economy benefits from students earning degrees in the United States in competitive STEM fields.  Information on the new fields of study will be communicated to schools and students through a Federal Register notice.

DHS is also updating and issuing new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy manual guidance.  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 noncitizen or noncitizen of exceptional ability.

Certain noncitizens with an advanced degree or exceptional ability can self-petition for employment-based immigrant visa classification, without testing the labor market and obtaining certification from the Department of Labor, if USCIS determines the waiver of the labor market test to be in the national interest.  The updated guidance clarifies how to use the program, making it easier for noncitizens with needed skills, such as STEM graduates and entrepreneurs, to embark on a pathway to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the United States.

USCIS is also issuing a policy manual update related to O-1A nonimmigrant status for noncitizens 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 STEM fields.

The 22 new fields of study are bioenergy, general forestry, forest resources production and management, human-centered 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.

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USCIS to Allow F-1 Students to File I-765 Online to Request OPT

USCIS announced that it would now accept the online version of Form I-765 from certain F-1 students applying for pre or post-completion OPT or STEM OPT extensions. This may provide some relief to students who have been subject to delays at USCIS lockboxes. Previously, USCIS announced flexibilities for F-1 students who had been affected by lockbox delays.

USCIS Announcement

WASHINGTON—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services today announced that F-1 students seeking optional practical training (OPT) can now file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, online if they are filing under one of these categories:

  • (c)(3)(A) – Pre-Completion OPT;
  • (c)(3)(B) – Post-Completion OPT; and
  • (c)(3)(C) – 24-Month Extension of OPT for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students.

OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). Eligible F-1 students who receive STEM degrees may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT.

“USCIS remains committed to maximizing our online filing capabilities,” said Senior Official Performing the Duties of USCIS Director Tracy Renaud. “The I-765 online filing option allows eligible students to file forms online in a more user-friendly fashion and increases efficiencies for adjudicators.”

The option to file Form I-765 online is only available to F-1 students filing Form I-765 for OPT. If an applicant submits Form I-765 online to request employment authorization on or after April 15, but is eligible for a different employment authorization category, USCIS will deny the application and retain the fee. As USCIS continues to transition to paperless operations, the agency will work to expand online filing for Form I-765 to additional categories.

Online filing allows applicants to submit forms electronically, check the status of their case anytime from anywhere, and receive notices from USCIS online instead of waiting for them in the mail. USCIS is using innovation and technology to meet the needs of applicants, petitioners, and employees. Regardless of the paper or electronic format of an application or petition, USCIS is committed to ensuring a secure and efficient process for all.

Individuals can file 11 USCIS forms online, which can all be found on the Forms Available to File Online page. To file these forms online, individuals must first create a USCIS online account at https://myaccount.uscis.gov/. This free account allows them to:

  • Submit their forms;
  • Pay their fees;
  • Track the status of their case;
  • Communicate with USCIS through a secure inbox; and
  • Respond to Requests for Evidence.

USCIS continues to accept the latest paper version of these forms by mail.

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New ICE Report on International Students Shows Enrollment Decline

ICE released its annual “SEVIS by the Numbers” report, showing a decline in the international student population for 2019. The report highlights data tracked through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a web-based system DHS uses to manage information on nonimmigrants in the U.S. whose primary purpose is to study. The latest report relies on data from the calendar year 2019. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) manages SEVIS and is part of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The system tracks information on F-1 students participating in academic programs of study, M-1 students participating in vocational studies, and J-1 exchange visitors participating in a Department of State-designated exchange visitor program.

The report shows that active F-1 and M-1 students declined 1.7 percent to 1,523,758, while J-1 program participation increased 1.7 percent to 532,711. The number of SEVP-certified schools eligible to enroll nonimmigrant students dropped by 287 to 8,649. Nonimmigrant students came to study in the U.S. from 225 different countries and pursued 1,353 different primary majors, across a variety of education levels.

Geographical Trends

Asia is still the top continent of origin for students, but there was a 2.4 percent decline in the student population in 2019.

  • At just over 1.1 million students, Asia accounted for 74.6 percent of the nonimmigrant student population.
  • Africa, Australia and the Pacific Islands, and South America saw increases of .44 percent, 1.10 percent, and .03 percent, respectively.
  • China had the largest number of students (474,497), with India (249,221), and South Korea (84,071) rounding out the top three countries, despite decreases in student records from these countries.
  • There were 78,366 nonimmigrant students at K-12 schools with almost 70% coming from five countries: 47% were from China, 8.6% from South Korea, 7.5% from Vietnam, 3.4% from Mexico, and 3.1% from Brazil.

Degrees and Primary Majors

Approximately 86 percent of all F-1 and M-1 students were enrolled in associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral programs.

  • Associate’s degrees accounted for 7% of agrees pursued, but the number of students declined by 8.1% from 2018 to 116,734 students.
  • Bachelor’s and master’s degrees decreased slightly with 517,556 pursuing bachelor’s degrees (down 0.88%) and 494,099 pursuing master’s degrees (down 0.9%).
  • Students in doctoral degree programs increased by 5.2% to 187,902.
  • The top majors were Second Language Learning, Business Administration and Management (General), Computer Science, Electrical and Electronics Engineering, and Computer and Information Sciences (General).
  • Approximately 52% of students were enrolled in one of the top 20 majors.

Training in the U.S.

Some students may be eligible for employment authorization through Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

  • In 2019, there was a 4% decrease in pre-and post-completion OPT participants reported to have worked for an employer.
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) OPT employment dropped by 3.6% from 2018.
  • Students utilizing CPT employment authorization dropped significantly from 151,525 to 116,337, over a 23% decrease.

Student Employment

The top OPT employer was AZTech Technologies, employing 734 students in 2019.

  • Amazon, Google, Masswell Development Group, and Robert Half rounded out the top five employers with 569, 268, 263, and 252 student employees respectively.
  • Amazon also topped the STEM OPT employer list, with 2,431 students in 2019, followed by Google with 955, Microsoft with 700, Intel with 690, and Deloitte with 676 students.
  • The top CPT employers look similar, with the addition of Facebook at the third spot. Amazon employed 2,086 in the top spot, with Google employing 1,158, Facebook with 1,090, Microsoft with 730, and Deloitte with 672 students.
  • Visit the SEVP Data Library for complete lists of the top 200 OPT, STEM OPT, and CPT employers.

Are you an employer looking for pathways to hiring the best global talent? Contact us to discuss how you can train students to join your workforce.

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