Employers of those working in the Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (the STEM fields) should review the expanded list of fields that may qualify eligible foreign graduates for the additional 17 months of optional practical training (OPT). Now included are fields such as pharmaceutical sciences, econometrics and quantitative economics. The complete list may be viewed at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm.
Most foreign students are eligible for one year of OPT after completing a degree. Since 2008, some who complete a degree in a designated STEM field may be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT.
The Department of Homeland Security announced the expanded list on May 11th. http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/releases/20120511-expanded-stem-degree-programs.shtm. The announcement followed a DHS information release from late January listing reforms that would be implemented to help attract and retain highly skilled immigrants in an effort to strengthen the economy. http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/fact-sheets/20120131-dhs-retain-highly-skilled-immigrants.shtm. In the January release, DHS indicated that the STEM OPT extension may be made available to graduates who hold a degree in a STEM field even if the STEM-field degree is not their most recently granted degree. No mention was made of this in the May 11th announcement.
Eligible STEM-field graduates and their employers benefit not only from the extended period of practical training, but the additional time also provides H-1B cap-subject employers two chances at having a cap-subject H-1B petition approved for a valued STEM field worker. With the demand for H-1B numbers up for fiscal year 2013, forward movement on this issue is timely for H-1B cap-subject employers.
Note that as a means of encouraging the use of E-Verify, the potential for the 17-month OPT extension by a STEM-field graduate is available only if the employer uses E-Verify.