By:  Richard Hanus, Esq.

Published January 22, 2022

Moving to the U.S. based on a job offer or professional skills is no easy task and can involve some of the most complicated bureaucratic processes our government has to offer.   It’s not that the law is so complicated, as much as it involves a path riddled with hidden mines and obstacles that leave too many talented intending immigrants left looking elsewhere to pursue their ambitions.  This is particularly true for foreign nationals who come to the U.S. to attend high level student visa programs, but are then left with limited avenues to legally remain in the U.S. to apply their talents.  Of course, in this scenario, the U.S. is also the loser, since another, more welcoming, nation will get to benefit from the foreign national’s talents.  As of the past few days however, the Biden administration has taken steps to ease this burden and pave a smoother path for many job based intending immigrants, particularly those with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM).

F-1 student visa holders who graduate with a STEM degree:  Foreign students completing a university degree program are typically afforded an opportunity to obtain a 12 month general employment authorization document (EAD) to apply the fruits of their education following graduation.  STEM grads though have a chance at a total of 36 months on their EAD.

Now, under the new Biden policy, the list of educational programs considered as STEM has expanded considerably, adding 22 new fields of study, including Bioenergy, Forestry, Forest Resources Production and Management, Human-Centered Technology Design, Cloud Computing, Anthrozoology, Climate Science, Earth Systems Science, Economics and Computer Science, Environmental Geosciences, Geobiology, Geography and Environmental Studies, Mathematical Economics, Mathematics and Atmospheric/Oceanic Science, Data Science, Data Analytics, Business Analytics, Data Visualization, Financial Analytics, Data Analytics, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Social Sciences, Research Methodology and Quantitative Methods.

While a positive development, this expanded list remains conspicuously incomplete as it fails to include the health sciences and during a time our nation faces urgent challenges presented by a global pandemic.  Specifically, and for no good reason, healthcare related grads in severe shortage professions, such as nursing, physical and occupational therapy, medical fields and others remain ineligible for the lengthened employment authorization period.  Hopefully the policy will be corrected so as to catch up with the realities facing our nation.

In the meantime, more talented foreign national graduates of U.S. programs now have additional breathing room in charting their course to avail of temporary or permanent work visa options.  Indeed this is a positive turn from the previous administration’s policies, where obstacles to legal immigration were unnecessarily created, and the best and brightest intending immigrants quite reasonably got the sense they were not welcome here.


Expanded temporary visa and green card eligibility:   Foreign nationals with STEM backgrounds, especially those with advanced degrees, will now have a wider array of  options to pursue an O-1 “extraordinary ability” visa, as well as a “National Interest Waiver” based green card.   Both of these options are important alternatives to more conventional immigration avenues, such as the H-1B visa or the PERM/employment based green card.  With demand for H-1B visas at 4 times the annual supply, the newly more generous O-1 STEM options provide an important alternative for foreign workers, especially for those completing degree programs in the U.S.

On the permanent resident side, qualified STEM educated foreign nationals with advanced degrees (or “exceptional ability”) who can document their prospective “national interest” contributions, are now afforded expanded eligibility for a green card.  Importantly the National Interest waiver is an immigration avenue allowing professionals to proceed toward green card without proving the unavailability of U.S. workers for their position – a requirement that is typically a component of the employment based green card process.

It is a good thing when the U.S. legal immigration system becomes more accessible to the world’s ambitious and talented. Last week’s measures, as outlined above, are indeed positive first steps.

PUBLISHED January 22, 2022– “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2022, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois