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THE USA: Visa Guides

Immigration reform in the US

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Foreign students studying in the USA have traditionally had a year after graduation in which to find a job. This legislation allows them to live and work in the United States during that time. Three years ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) changed immigration rules to extend the period from 12 to 29 months for students graduating in certain subjects.

President Obama recently delivered a speech which outlines a number of more recent concessions to these rules. In the following article Hotcourses’ student editor – Alejandra – outlines the changes and asks how they will affect foreign students who wish to study in the USA. 

On May 12 the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department (ICE) published an expanded list of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degree programs. Graduates on student visas who have studied these subjects are now eligible for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension from 12 to 27 months. Crucially, this allows you to remain in the country and gain professional training after acquiring your degree.


Opportunities for science students

Currently, international students in F-1 non-immigrant status who have been enrolled at an approved institution on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT to work for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the their major area of study. However, under the new rules, students who graduate with one of the newly-expanded STEM degrees can remain for an additional 17 months on an OPT STEM extension, making the possibility to study a science degree in the US more attractive and professionally fulfilling.

During an official visit to El Paso, Texas, President Obama stated that the US needs immigration reform to allow the highly skilled and talented to remain in the country and work towards its development:

‘In a global marketplace, we need all the talent we can attract, all the talent we can get to stay here to start businesses -- not just to benefit those individuals, but because their contribution will benefit all Americans.’


Good news for international students

The new changes have been warmly received by the international student community, but there has been some opposition from anti-immigration groups who see these changes as a threat to the US-born students who are struggling to gain training upon graduation. The aim for global competitiveness of the American educational system through the strengthening of science and technology areas is also benefiting international students who now have a longer period of time to gain first-hand professional experience of their specific subjects.

It is still not known whether or not further subjects, such as arts and humanities, will be included in this extension. However, this is a great opportunity for those passionate about sciences to explore what the US educational and labour market has to offer and the recent announcement is indicative of the change in American attitudes towards foreign students.



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Read more:

'What are STEM fields?'

'Post-study visa options in the US'

'Applying for a student visa in the US'

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