America Welcomes STEM Talent

Last week, the Biden-⁠Harris Administration announced a number of initiatives to attract and retain STEM talent from foreign countries.  As the global economy is increasingly depending on technology and science, countries are trying to compete for skilled workers in the STEM field in order to stay competitive.   The U.S. has been slacking in retaining foreign talent in terms of its immigration policy, which is complex and often confusingly convoluted.  The Biden-Harris Administration is trying to take actions to change that, and these measures are good starting points. 

International students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields are allowed to have up to 36 months of practical training to work for U.S. employers. 22 new fields such as bioenergy, forestry, cloud computing, climate science, data science, business analytics, etc., have been added to the list of qualified fields for STEM OPT employment. Some multidisciplinary or emerging fields, such as Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and Social Sciences, Research Methodology and Quantitative Methods have also been added. Both undergraduate and graduate STEM academic programs are qualified for OPT employment. This change will attract more STEM students to stay employed in the U.S. rather than returning to their home countries.

Expand STEM J-1 Training to 36 Months

The State Department will start an “Early Career STEM Research Initiative,” to facilitate non-immigrant BridgeUSA exchange visitors coming to the United States to engage in STEM research through research, training or educational exchange visitor programs with host organizations, including businesses. Further, academic training for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields on the J-1 visa will be extended to up to 36 months.

O-1A Extraordinary Ability Working Visa for STEM Talent

DHS has updated its policy manual regarding the application criteria for the “extraordinary ability” (O-1A) visa program. O-1A nonimmigrant status is available to persons of extraordinary ability in the fields of science, business, education, or athletics. DHS has clarified how STEM talent such as PHD holders may apply for O-1A status and visa based on the technical and complex nature of their studies.
The update also emphasizes the use of "comparable evidence" to establish sustained acclaim and recognition of the applicant. Such use will provide more flexibility for STEM applicants to submit alternative evidentiary proof which is more relevant to their fields of study, if the traditional documentary proof is not available.

DHS has also updated its policy manual regarding the use of national interest waivers (NIW) for STEM applicants to apply for U.S. permanent resident status (green card). Normally, to apply for U.S. green cards based on employment, a foreign worker must be sponsored by a U.S. employer and must test the job market through the labor certification process.  The use of an NIW allows a foreigner to apply for a green card directly without employer sponsorship and a labor certification. 
The foreigner must prove that he or she has an exceptional ability or an advanced degree holder. Further, the applicant must meet three other criteria: (1) His or her profession must have both substantial merit and national importance; (2) he or she is well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor; and (3) it would be beneficial to the United States to waive the job offer and labor certification requirements.

The new policy explains how the NIW can be used by STEM advanced degree holders and entrepreneurs to apply for green cards. It also explains that the significance of supporting letters from governmental and related entities. 


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