Biden administration announces plan to “attract international STEM talent”

The Biden-Harris administration released the statement on January 21, citing that it believes one of the country’s “greatest strengths is our ability to attract global talent”.

The agency announcements include the State Department’s new Early Career STEM Research Initiative, which is designed to attract non-immigrant BridgeUSA exchange visitors to engage in STEM research.

Homeland Security’s secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, announced that 22 new fields of study are now included in the STEM Option Practical Training program through the SEVP, which permits F-1 students earning bachelors, masters and doctorates in “certain STEM fields” to remain in the US for up to three years.

This 36-month period will give them the time to complete OPT after earning their degrees.

The new fields of study have been labelled by the White House as primarily “new multidisciplinary or emerging fields” – “critical” in attracting talent with the aim of supporting economic growth.

“STEM innovation allows us to solve the complex challenges we face today and make a difference in how we secure and protect our country,” Mayorkas said.

“Through STEM education and training opportunities, DHS is expanding the number and diversity of students who excel in STEM education and contribute to the US economy.”

“Concrete actions like this from the Biden administration help to strengthen the US’ reputation as a premier destination”

The administration’s actions “make the United States a more attractive destination for the world’s talent”, said Esther D. Brimmer, executive director and CEO of NAFSA.

“By strengthening interagency collaboration, addressing some procedural challenges, and offering long awaited guidance on key policies, the administration is signalling a real recognition of the value of international talent to US higher education, the economy and our global competitiveness,” she continued.

“Concrete actions like this from the Biden administration help to strengthen the US’ reputation as a premier destination for international education and talent,” senior policy advisor to the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration Jill Welch concurred.

The other key announcement was a clarification on the use of the national interest waiver, specifically for those with “extraordinary ability” – essentially, those with advanced degrees in STEM fields and entrepreneurs.

The policy manual related to this status – namely, O-1A nonimmigrant status – is also being updated regarding what evidence “may satisfy the evidentiary criteria”.

For entrepreneurs, the Immigration and Nationality act now says that USCIS can waive a job offer requirement for those whose entrepreneurial work is in the “national interest”.

“This update will promote efficient and effective benefit processing as USCIS reviews requests for national interest waivers,” the announcement reads, adding the effort “is consistent with the Biden-Harris administration’s priorities to restore faith in the legal immigration system.”

“By focusing on improving policy that align with our values as a nation that welcomes immigrants, international students, scholars and refugees, we continue to support the administration’s commitment to setting us on the right path towards strengthening our economy,” added Welch.

As well as the new Early Career STEM Research Initiative, the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs is also announcing guidance facilitating additional academic training for both undergraduate and postgraduate students in STEM fields on the J-1 visa – also for up to three years.

However, both NAFSA and the Presidents’ Alliance have said that more needs to be done – both when it came to the diversification of subjects, and the speed of change on immigration laws in the US.

“We look forward to the Biden-Harris administration deepening its international education commitment and resources so that international talent from non-STEM fields may contribute to American ingenuity and innovation,” said Brimmer.

“Further Congressional action is needed to modernise immigration laws to create a more direct pathway”

“[This action will] ensure that US students are able to benefit from an internationalised campus and career-enhancing study abroad experiences,” she added.

In its official response, a spokesperson for the Presidents’ Alliance said, “Further Congressional action is needed to modernise immigration laws to create a more direct pathway for international students to be able to stay and contribute to our communities.”

“NAFSA also urges Congress to be productive partner… by providing key legislative solutions such as expanding dual intent and creating a path to a green card for international students so that they may have expanded opportunities to stay in this country after graduation to open business, join our workforce and contribute to civil society,” Brimmer added.

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