International STEM Students Benefit from Visa Extensions

“It’s the best news ever!” Comments similar to this flooded message threads between international students on Wechat, a social messaging app, following news that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would extend visa terms for students holding degrees in science and math.

In February, the DHS amended the F-1 nonimmigrant student visa regulations on optional practical training (OPT) for students who are majors in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) from U.S. institutions of higher education. The amended policy allows such F-1 STEM students who have elected to pursue 12 months of OPT in the United States to extend the OPT period by 24 months, so that they may stay in the U.S. to work for three years after finishing school.

According to an article from the American Bazaar, a website about American-Indian business, the extension will “give those students ample time to entrench themselves in the workforce and a shot at getting a nod for an H-1B visa through the company they work for.”

International students majoring in STEM fields share positive attitudes about the change.

“Even though I am going to apply for a PhD. in Economics after Dickinson and the STEM visa change does not have much effect on me, I am still glad to see this change,” said Yuanxiaoyue Yang ’17, a double major in economics and mathematics.

Yang, who comes from China, saw the visa change as a result of supply and demand in STEM fields. “This policy implies that the domestic supply for students work in STEM areas is not sufficient to meet the demand. Therefore, [this policy] will probably attract more international students, especially Asians who have a comparative advantage in science, to decide on a STEM major,” she said.

Yutong Shang ’16, who majors in computer science and will graduate in May, is indifferent about the change.

“I am not looking for a job directly related to STEM though it requires some programming skills, so I don’t know whether it will have an influence on me,” Shang said.

Shang also felt that the policy could be retracted in the future depending on the results of the presidential election this year.

First-year international students and international students in non-STEM fields hold differing perspectives on the new visa allowances.

Zhuoxuan Li ’19, who just declared an international studies major, said that the STEM visa policy would not influence her choice of major.

“I don’t like the STEM majors…hopefully one day the U.S government [will] also [make] my major one of the priority [degrees].”

However, Li still believes that the special circumstances for STEM visa holders might give some students second thoughts about their majors.

“For sure, it would to some extent have influence on the students who hope to stay in the U.S. in the future, especially those who have very practical goals or are not sure about their true interests,” Li said.