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U.S. Expands STEM OPT Program for International Students, Opening More Work Opportunities

In a recent announcement, the United States has expanded the STEM OPT (Optional Practical Training) program by adding eight new fields of study. This update provides additional opportunities for international students to gain practical work experience in the United States. The move comes as Canada and other countries actively compete to attract high-skilled foreign nationals.

Amendment to STEM Designated Degree Program List: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will amend the STEM Designated Degree Program List, as mentioned in a Federal Register notice scheduled for publication on July 12, 2023. This amendment enables international students in F-1 status to qualify for a 24-month extension of Optional Practical Training in STEM fields. Initially, OPT allows for 12 months of practical training.

The Biden administration had previously expanded eligibility for STEM OPT in January 2022 by including 22 qualifying fields of study, such as cloud computing, anthrozoology, and climate science. The public can nominate additional fields to be added to the program. Educators highlight that OPT and the ability to gain practical work experience are essential for attracting international students, as it may lead to opportunities for H-1B status and employment-based green cards in the future.

The uncertainty surrounding OPT and STEM OPT under the previous administration, coupled with new restrictions on H-1B visas, prompted a rise in international students considering Canadian universities and other destinations. The number of Indian students enrolled in Canadian universities as international students increased by 182% between the 2016/17 and 2019/2020 academic years, while the number of Indians immigrating to Canada tripled since 2013.

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