The White House has announced a new multi-pronged plan to attract foreign students in Stem fields to the US and entice them to stay to continue conducting research after completing their degrees. The plan has been welcomed by US higher education groups.

Under the Biden administration’s new strategy, announced on 21 January, the US State Department will double the amount of time that students on exchange visitor J-1 visas have to participate in post-graduate academic training in the US – increasing it from 18 months to 36.

In addition, the US Department of Homeland Security has added 22 extra fields of study to the optional practical training (OPT) programme, which allows students in Stem fields to remain in the US for three years after they graduate to complete training with an employer. The added fields of study are primarily new multidisciplinary or emerging fields, including bioenergy, climate science and geobiology.

Another change revises the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ policy manual to clarify eligibility determinations. It also provides examples of evidence that can be submitted on behalf of those seeking a visa for foreigners with ‘extraordinary ability’ in the sciences and other areas. Specifically, the policy update allows the selection process to consider things like journal impact factors, relative citations, research experience with leading institutions and unsolicited invitations to speak or present research at scientific conferences.

‘Today, the Departments of State and Homeland Security are announcing new actions to advance predictability and clarity for pathways for international Stem scholars, students, researchers, and experts to contribute to innovation and job creation efforts across America,’ the White House said in a 21 January fact sheet on the immigration policy changes. ‘These actions will allow international Stem talent to continue to make meaningful contributions to America’s scholarly, research and development, and innovation communities.’

Academic research groups like the Association of American Universities (AAU) applauded the Biden administration’s actions. ’By expanding the types of degrees that qualify as Stem and enabling all international Stem graduates to remain in our country for 36 months, including those undergoing optional practical training, the new policies will help ensure that students trained and educated in the United States will have the opportunity to continue to contribute to our economic success,’ said the organisation’s president, Barbara Snyder.