U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) published on its website an expanded list of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degree programs that will qualify eligible foreign national students for extended optional practical training (OPT). All foreign students in F-1 nonimmigrant status who have been enrolled on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year in a college or University certified by the ICE Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT to work for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study.
However, under an interim regulation published in 2008, F-1 students who graduate with a degree in one of the approved STEM degree programs are eligible to remain in the U.S. and extend the OPT period for an additional 17 months. The Revised STEM degree list, available on the ICE website at http://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/stem-list-2011.pdf, adds 50 degree programs which will now qualify for the 17 month OPT extension. Degree programs in agricultural and nutrition sciences, neuroscience, mathematics and computer science, psychology, pharmaceutics and drug design, and business statistics are among those that have been added to the list of approved degree programs. The ICE announcement indicates that the expansion of the degree list is part of the administration’s effort to address shortages of scientists and technology experts in certain STEM fields.