White House Announces Actions to Attract STEM Talent

On January 21, the White House issued a Fact Sheet outlining actions that the U.S. Government is undertaking to attract STEM talent to come to and remain in the United States. Important changes to the different visa types are outlined below:

J1 Visas – In support of the recent Joint Statement of Principles in Support of International Education, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs announced the Early Career STEM Research Initiative. Under the new Opportunity for Academic Training Extensions for J-1 College and University Students in STEM Fields, Undergraduate and Pre-Doctoral J-1 students who have recently completed STEM-related studies are now eligible for a maximum of 36 months of academic training. This new initiative will run for the next two academic years 2021-2022 and 2022 and 2023.

F1 OPT – In order to attract STEM talent to the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has included 22 new fields of study to the list of STEM programs eligible for the 24 month OPT STEM extension. The added STEM fields include areas of study that are in new multidisciplinary and emerging fields which are vital to supporting the U.S. economy and technological competitiveness. The 22 new fields that have been added are listed in the Federal Registry’s Update to the Department of Homeland Security STEM Designated Degree Program List.

O-1A – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a Policy Alert announcing an update to the USCIS policy manual related to “extraordinary ability” (O-1A) nonimmigrant status. The update provided new policy guidance related to the adjudication of O-1A nonimmigrant visas. O-1 beneficiaries who possess a STEM degree. The new update 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. Additionally, it provides examples of possible comparable evidence that may be submitted in support of petitions for beneficiaries working in STEM fields. The guidance, contained in Chapter 4 of Volume 2 of the USCIS Policy Manual is effective immediately.

National Interest Waivers – The USCIS also issued a Policy Alert clarifying how the National Interest Waiver can be used by STEM graduates with an advanced degree. the policy update clarifies how the national interest waiver can be used for persons with advanced degrees in STEM fields and entrepreneurs, as well as the significance of letters from governmental and quasi-governmental entities. Of note is the guidance states that “(t)he mere possession of a degree, diploma, certificate or similar award from a college, university, school, or other institution of learning is not by itself considered sufficient evidence of exceptional ability.” To qualify for a National Interest Waiver the petitioner must still meet the requirements set forth in the Matter of Dhanasar. The guidance contained in USCIS Policy Manual Volume 6, Part F, Chapter 5 is effective immediately.

The changes announced by the White House and implemented by the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Education are very important and demonstrate the recognition by the Federal Government of the need to attract and maintain top talent to meet the high demand for STEM educated workers in the U.S. While there are still complex hurdles that need to be cleared to successfully obtain an O-1A or an NIW, the government has for now helped clarify how the USCIS will adjudicate STEM related petitions and has provided Immigration Attorneys additional tools to craft successful arguments to help STEM graduates remain in the U.S.

Please feel free to contact us for a free consult to see how we can help you obtain an O-1 or an NIW under the new USCIS guidelines.

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