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International students studying STEM-related subjects can now extend OPT for another seven months after graduation | Courtesy of U.S. Army RDECOM/Creative Commons

Last month, the federal government released a new policy, allowing international students studying STEM fields to stay in the United States for on-the-job training for up to three years.

The rule was part of the STEM Optional Practical Training program, and extends the period of time foreign students can stay in the country seven months longer than what was outlined in the last policy, which was passed in 2008.

Kathryn Fogle, an advisor for international students and scholars through Penn Global, has helped many students through the visa process, and said that one of the biggest benefits of this extension is that students will have more opportunities to apply for an H-1B visa.

The H-1B visa is an employer-sponsored visa, and every year only 65,000 of them are awarded by Congress through a lottery process. Considering that this is only about 25 percent of the number of people who applied last year, the process can be worrying for foreign students.

“If you’re not selected in the lottery for the H-1B visa then you might not have a way to remain in the United States beyond the OPT, so if your OPT lasts longer you have several chances to apply for this visa,” Fogle said. “I think it’s going to be a real benefit for students who are trying to get that next visa but aren’t lucky enough the first time.”

Fogle believes these benefits will motivate international students to stay in the United States while allowing them to focus on training and not worry about their visas, which can, in turn, be beneficial for employers too.

“I think it is a motivating factor when you can stay on your visa a bit longer, which certainly makes life easier instead of worrying about what your next visa is going to be and if you’re going to get one. I can imagine employers are happy about that as well.”

Fogle also pointed out that the new rule will help students planning on obtaining a doctorate, especially those in three-year postdoctoral programs, since the visa can now cover their time in the United States while earning the degree.

Devyani Gupta, a Wharton junior, is planning on working in the United States through the STEM OPT program after graduating. Though she’s excited about the program’s extension, she’s also surprised that it passed.

“I’m just very surprised that they extended it by so long for STEM people, to be honest,” Gupta said. “I get that there’s a huge demand for people doing STEM and they want more people to do that and that’s why they’re giving more opportunities to international students to do that, which is great for us, and I just find that it’s such a great advantage.”

The extension will go into effect on May 10 this year.

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