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US makes it easier for STEM students to stay

In a bid to attract and retain more highly skilled foreigners to the USA, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced a series of administrative reforms to make studying in the States more attractive. The measures follow Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in which he said that America faced a shortage of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) students that put the economy at risk.

“The numbers are clear in that enrollments within STEM fields have decreased for American students"

Among the new reforms, more STEM graduates will be eligible for the 17-month extension of the country’s post-study work scheme, called optional practical training OPT (on top of the standard 12 months granted to all students on the scheme). Only recent graduates of STEM degrees are currently given the extension, but this will stretch to include those who have taken STEM degrees in the past, not necessarily as their last degree.

In another change, spouses of international students will be able to study academic courses on a part-time basis; currently they may only study recreational or vocational programmes. Schools will also be allowed to determine the number of Designated School Officials they need to enroll and support international students through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) – a clear nod to increasing recruitment.

Last week, the executive director and CEO of NAFSA, Marlene M. Johnson, said the reforms would reduce “the gap between campus realities and regulatory requirements”. However she warned that the government needed to remain committed to achieve its goals. “The success of the new initiative hinges on the ability of DHS to move quickly to implement these reforms.”

Bill Colvin, vice president of international recruitment and enrolment management at The CollegeBound Network, said the government had “listened and responded”. “The numbers are clear in that enrollments within STEM fields have decreased for American students… We need changes like this to maintain the strongest economy in the world and to put more Americans back to work,” he said.

The president is also mooting deeper reforms, such as permanent residence to certain graduates

The measures, whose start dates are yet to be decided, were announced just days after Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he called for sweeping immigration reforms to create jobs and boost competitiveness.

According to a DHS statement, the president is also mooting deeper legislative reforms, including creating a new visa for foreigners wishing to set up new businesses and offering permanent residence to certain international graduates of particular STEM subjects.

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