AILA Quicktake #311: Recent Policy Changes to Attract and Retain Talent in STEM Fields

In this short video, AILA’s Diane Rish provides a short overview of the series of measures announced by the Biden administration on January 21, 2022, to help attract and retain international talent in STEM fields and highlights resources that can provide practitioners with more information.

Video Transcript

AILA Quicktake #311: Recent Policy Changes to Attract and Retain Talent in STEM Fields

On January 21, the Biden administration unveiled a series of policies to help attract and retain international talent in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math]. These new policies seek to provide greater predictability and clarity for pathways for international STEM talent, by way of the F-1 student, J-1 exchange visitor, and O-1 extraordinary ability nonimmigrant visa categories, as well as the EB-2 National Interest Waiver immigrant visa category.

Collectively, these policies will ease the way for international STEM talent to contribute their skills and expertise to the United States after completing a U.S. university education; enter the U.S. as researchers or workers; or apply for U.S. permanent residency.

The administration’s actions also send an important signal to international students, researchers, and innovators across the globe that America is a welcoming nation, and their talent, skills and expertise are welcome here.

The administration’s actions can be divided into four major areas:

First, the Department of Homeland Security has expanded the number of academic fields that qualify as a STEM degree by adding 22 new fields to the STEM Designated Degree Program List. The added fields of study are largely new multidisciplinary or emerging fields, such as cloud computing, data analytics, and business analytics.

This change is important because F-1 students who graduate with a STEM degree from a U.S. college or university are eligible for a 24-month extension of their post-graduate Optional Practical Training (OPT). As a result of this change, more F-1 students will be eligible to gain practical experience through STEM OPT, and potentially later a work visa, allowing them to apply their STEM skills and expertise to support U.S. economic growth and innovation.

Second, the Department of State has expanded the use of J-1 exchange visitor visas to provide more pathways for individuals in STEM fields.

The first initiative is called the “Early Career STEM Research Initiative.” This initiative facilitates certain exchange visitors coming to the United States on J-1 visas to engage in STEM research with host organizations, including businesses.

The Department of State has also announced new guidance to facilitate additional academic training for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields on the J-1 visa for periods of up to 36 months. This is a temporary initiative, limited to the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years.

These measures are intended to increase the number of STEM-focused educational and cultural exchanges.

Third, USCIS is making the O-1A visa category more accessible to individuals in STEM fields. The O-1A visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics. USCIS has recently updated its Policy Manual to provide greater clarity on how it determines eligibility for individuals of extraordinary ability, such as PhD holders in STEM fields; and what evidence may satisfy the O-1A evidentiary criteria. In particular, USCIS provides examples of evidence that may satisfy the O-1A evidentiary criteria and discusses considerations that are relevant to evaluating such evidence, with a focus on the highly technical nature of STEM fields. This updated guidance is intended to expand the eligibility for O-1A visas in STEM fields.

Fourth, USCIS has updated its policy manual to clarify how the national interest waiver in the employment-based second preference category can be used for individuals with advanced degrees in STEM fields and entrepreneurs.

AILA applauds these changes and urges USCIS and the Department of State to adopt the operational changes necessary to ensure immigration benefits requests and visa applications are processed efficiently and timely.

For more information about these latest policy changes, check out AILA’s Featured Issue page on the AILA website, entitled “Actions to Attract and Retain STEM Talent.” There, AILA will be posting practice resources in the coming days to provide additional information regarding these policy changes.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 22020233.