The 22 new fields of study have been added to the STEM Optional Practical Training program in a bid to keep U.S. science and math education competitive.
The Department of Homeland Security is implementing over 20 new areas of study in their STEM Optional Practical Training program to develop and potentially retain a technologically savvy workforce for both the federal government and private sector.
Announced on Friday, DHS officials added new fields of study to the list of qualifying STEM bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree programs for F-1 visa recipients to stay in the U.S. for up to 36 months while they earn their degree.
New fields include bioenergy, forest resources production and management, human-centered technology design, cloud computing, climate science, earth systems science, economics and computer science, mathematical economics, mathematics and atmospheric and oceanic science, general data science, general data analytics, business analytics and data visualization, among others.
“STEM innovation allows us to solve the complex challenges we face today and make a difference in how we secure and protect our country,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “Through STEM education and training opportunities, DHS is expanding the number and diversity of students who excel in STEM education and contribute to the U.S. economy.”
The release notes that expanding the eligible degrees for OPT will help the U.S. stay competitive in the global STEM education market.
In conjunction with this expansion, DHS’s affiliate agency U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will update its guidance on how OPT participants can segue the program into an employment-based immigrant visa.
The expansion of eligible STEM topics for program qualification comes as the U.S. continues to advance its global ranking and competitiveness in fields like mathematics, technology, and science.
In late 2021, national data suggested that the U.S. workforce is consistently falling behind other nations in the number of employees with advanced STEM skills and career paths.
Out of 100 countries, the U.S. ranked at 29th place regarding the number of its students participating in areas of study like operating systems, cloud computing and mathematics courses.
Additional funding for STEM education programs has consistently been on policymakers’ dockets. The recent Build Back Better Act put forth by President Joe Biden includes about $7.5 billion to remain available until September 2031 for new research grants, scholarships and other academic awards for STEM education development within the purview of the National Science Foundation.