On January 21, 2022, the Biden administration announced updated policies designed to enhance immigration opportunities for foreign nationals in STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  These policies create wider eligibility for extraordinary ability workers and “national interest” green card applicants.  They expand the number of qualified majors and the length of time available for work authorization for students after they graduate.

A broad description of the updated policies with links to more details follows:

Expanded Eligibility For STEM O-1A Outstanding Individual NonImmingrant Visa Status:

The O-1A Outstanding Individual category is for those with extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics – demonstrated by sustained acclaim.  Only an employer or agent may petition for a beneficiary to be accorded this 3-year, renewable non-immigrant visa.  No self-petition is allowed.  

USCIS has consistently held a narrow view of what evidence is acceptable to prove extraordinary ability.  Now the Policy Manual has been re-written.  Let’s see if the Officers in the field follow it.  After the Trump Administration brought immigration to a screeching halt, this is major whiplash.

As part of the STEM eligibility expansion, USCIS has provided an appendix of comparable evidence.  This includes examples of a wider variety of documents to satisfy the O-1A requirements for STEM occupations.  This broadening of “comparable evidence” – rejected in the past – combined with additional STEM guidance, should serve to provide a path to the O-1A classification for more STEM graduates and entrepreneurs.

See the USCIS Policy Manual for more details.

Improved National Interest Waivers For STEM Employment-Based Immigrants:

NIW National Interest Waivers of a job offer are intended to speed approval of employment-based   green cards – if USCIS deems such a waiver to be in the “national interest.”

Employers of most immigrants need to show a shortage of American workers via the PERM Labor Certification process.  PERM is now taking over a year – before a second year is absorbed by the balance of the immigration process:   Immigrant Visa Petition by Employer and Adjustment of Status by the foreign national.

PERM regulations prohibit self-petitioning by the foreign national or any entity in which she or her relatives have any ownership interest, require the employer to show the ability to pay the Prevailing Wage via profits exceeding expenses, and impose an orchestrated recruitment campaign relying on antiquated newspaper advertising.

The EB-2 NIW process can be undertaken by the foreign national as a self-petition, with no advertising, and no Prevailing Wage analysis.  Although the NIW process is taking a year, it may soon be amenable to PP Premium Processing [$2,500] – cutting the processing time to two weeks.

The USCIS policy update clarifies how the National Interest Waiver can be used for persons with advanced degrees in STEM fields.  Among other policy revisions, the new policy includes an entire section, “Specific Evidentiary Considerations for Persons with Advanced Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) Fields” to explain the broad range of evidence that may be submitted to satisfy NIW requirements.

The new guidance should serve to expand the use of NIWs for immigrant entrepreneurs and highly skilled individuals with expertise in science, engineering and other STEM fields.

See the USCIS Policy Alert for more details.

Doubling Available Academic Training Work Authorization to 36 months for J-1 STEM Students:

J-1 students have been limited to 18 months of post-graduation Academic Training work authorization. The new guidance facilitates J-1 Academic Training for undergraduate and graduate students in the listed STEM fields for up to 36 months.

See the BridgeUSA announcement for more details.

Expanded Eligibility For F-1 Students to participate in 2-year STEM OPT Optional Practical Training

All F-1 Foreign Students get a year of OPT Optional Practical Training – regardless of their major or whether their employer participates in the voluntary eVerify program [which provides online work authorization verification].

STEM OPT Optional Practical Training allows foreign students to gain practical employment experience for an additional 24 months.  The employer must participate in eVerify.  AND the student must have completed a degree with a major on the STEM list.   See list of STEM major fields.

DHS has added 22 qualifying fields of study to the list of eligible majors STEM OPT:


Forestry – General

Forest Resources Production and Management

Human-Centered Technology Design

Cloud Computing


Climate Scienc

Earth Systems Science,

Economics and Computer Science

Environmental Geosciences


Geography and Environmental Studies

Mathematical Economics

Mathematics and Atmospheric/Oceanic Science

Data Science – General

Data Analytics – General

Business Analytics

Data Visualization

Financial Analytics

Data Analytics -Other

Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Social Sciences

Research Methodology and Quantitative Methods

See the Federal Register notice for more details.