Biden Administration Just Announced New STEM-Friendly Policies

J-1 visas are available for individuals entering the U.S. temporarily, measured in months and years, in connection with a wide range of purposes, including training and research. The Biden Administration just announced the following

  • The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (ECA) will have an “Early Career STEM Research Initiative” to facilitate nonimmigrant BridgeUSA exchange visitors coming to the U.S. to engage in STEM research. There will be new guidance that will facilitate additional academic training for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields on a J-1 visa for periods up to 36 months.
  • To be eligible for this program, exchange visitors must be undergraduate and pre-doctoral degree-seeking college and university students who are pursuing or recently completed STEM-related studies. The maximum length of the program is 36 months (including a single extension).
  • Non-degree seeking students are not-eligible.

F-1 visas are held by international academic students. Upon completion of U.S. degree programs, F-1 students may apply for employment authorization in the form of Optional Practical Training (OPT) which lasts 12 months. Those with degrees in specific STEM fields, and who have employers signed up for the E-Verify program, are eligible to apply for 24 additional months of OPT, referred as STEM OPT.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Mayorkas announced adding 22 new fields of study which will be eligible for the STEM OPT program. Information on the new fields of study will be communicated to schools and students in a forthcoming Federal Register notice. The new fields of study are primarily new multidisciplinary or emerging fields.

O-1A visas are available for nonimmigrant individuals in the U.S. who meet certain criteria demonstrating that they are individuals of extraordinary ability. DHS is issuing an update to its policy manual as to what evidence may satisfy O-1A evidentiary criteria.

  • Update provides examples of evidence that satisfies O-1A evidentiary criteria and discusses considerations relevant to evaluating the evidence, with a focus on the highly technical nature of STEM fields
  • Update emphasizes that if a petitioner demonstrates that a particular criterion does not readily apply to the occupation, comparable significance would be acceptable.

National Interest Waiver Policy Update. Many individuals seeking to be in the US longer than the duration of a nonimmigrant visa must have an employer test the labor market before petitioning for permanent residency (green card) for them. Those individuals who can prove that they are accomplished in an area that of a “national interest” to the US can seek a waiver of this labor market test. DHS will be updating its policy manual regarding how USCIS adjudicates such waivers, referred to as National Interest Waivers (NIWs). Specifically, DHS will clarify how the NIW can be used for persons with advanced degrees in STEM fields and for entrepreneurs; the update will also discuss the weight given to letters of recommendation/support from governmental and quasi-governmental entities.

While the policies take effect immediately on January 21, 2022, Clark Lau LLC will continue to monitor to see how these will practically play out. The above has been prepared by the Clark Lau LLC team for informational purposes only. Please contact a Clark Lau LLC attorney to determine how the above may impact your specific circumstances.