Homeland Security Wants More Foreign Students to Stay Here and Work

By Susan Jones | May 14, 2012 | 10:44am EDT

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke about her agency's role in fighting terrorist threats abroad on Jan. 17, 2012 at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) - The Department of Homeland Security is expanding a program that allows foreign students to work in the United States when they're finished studying at U.S. colleges and universities.

"Attracting the best and brightest international talent to our colleges and universities and enabling them to contribute to their professional growth is an important part of our nation's economic, scientific and technological competitiveness," said Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

On Friday, DHS announced an expanded list of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs that qualify eligible graduates on student visas for "optional practical training," or OPT for short.

Under the OPT program, international students who graduate from colleges and universities in the United States are able to remain in the country and receive on-the-job training for up to 12 months. Students who graduate from a designated STEM-degree program can stay here and work for an additional 17 months.

"International students and exchange visitors bring invaluable contributions to our nation, and this helps empower the next generation of international entrepreneurs, right here in America," Napolitano said.

Designated STEM programs include Cyber/Computer Forensics and Counterterrorism; Cyber/Electronic Operations and Warfare; Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture; Environmental Studies; and dozens of other fields that involve science, technology engineering and math.

According to DHS, "These reforms reflect the Obama administration's ongoing commitment to promote policies that embrace talented students from other countries, who come to study in our finest colleges and universities and enrich the nation by allowing highly skilled foreign graduates to extend their post-graduate training in the United States and work in their field of study upon graduation."

Earlier this year, DHS announced several measures that will streamline existing pathways for immigrant entrepreneurs to enter the U.S. and create businesses here; allow businesses to retain more foreign-born science and technology students who graduate from U.S. universities; and make it easier for top researchers to immigrate to the U.S.

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