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Immigration Central | How to STEM the flow into the US

Non-immigrant STEM pathways offer employment opportunities in the US for a specific period; they don't provide immediate lawful permanent residence but one can transition to PR pathways and eventually US citizenship.

November 20, 2022 / 02:07 PM IST
Theater District, New York, the US. (Photo: 
Joe Yates via Unsplash)

Theater District, New York, the US. (Photo: Joe Yates via Unsplash)

Non-immigrant STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) pathways offer opportunities to work in the United States for a specified duration. Approximately 1,40,000 immigrant visas are available each fiscal year for non-citizens (and their spouses and children) who seek to immigrate based on their job skills. These non-immigrant pathways also lets the visa holder bring the spouse and children under the age of 21 to the US.

Pathways for STEM employment in the US

There are temporary and permanent pathways for non-citizens to work in the US in STEM fields.


After the completion of Optional Practical Training (OPT) and 24-month STEM OPT extension for F-1 Students

Eligibility: Student in F-1 status who has earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D degree in a STEM field from a US college or university

Job offer: Not required for the initial 12-month OPT but is required for 24-month STEM OPT extension

Duration of validity: Up to 12 months after the completion of OPT and 24-month STEM OPT extension (36 months in total)

H-1B specialty occupation

Eligibility: Must hold a US bachelor’s or higher degree (or a foreign equivalent degree) required for the occupation, or an equivalent combination of education and experience

Job offer: The offer must require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialised knowledge; and the attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the US.

Duration of validity: Three-year initial approval and one three-year extension.  Additional extensions may be available for individuals who are in the process of obtaining lawful permanent-resident status.

Owing to an annual statutory cap, there is typically a random selection process to determine which petitions are eligible to be filed for an initial H-1B period (unless exempt from the cap). H-1B extension petitions are not subject to the cap.

O-1 Extraordinary ability

Eligibility: Sustained national or international acclaim in a specific field

Job offer: Offers must demonstrate that you are coming to work in your area of extraordinary ability

Duration of validity: Up to three-year initial approval and one-year extension, with no maximum duration of status and no annual numerical limit


Intracompany transfer of a manager or executive of a multinational firm

Eligibility: One continuous year of employment abroad for a parent, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary of the US petitioning company. The employment abroad must have been in a specialised knowledge, managerial or executive capacity.

Job offer: Offer must be in a managerial or executive capacity

Duration of validity: Three-year initial approval and two-year extensions up to a total of seven years


Intracompany transfer of a specialised knowledge worker of a multinational firm

Eligibility: One continuous year of employment abroad for a parent, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary of the US petitioning company.  Employment abroad must have been in a managerial, executive, or specialised knowledge capacity

Job offer: Offers must be in a specialised knowledge capacity

Duration of validity: Three-year initial approval and a two‑year extension for a total of five years

FAQs of STEM pathways:

Eligibility: Some pathways, such as the O-1 non-immigrant visa classification and the EB-1A immigrant visa classification, are for those with "extraordinary ability". The H-1B, require, at least, a relevant bachelor’s degree or equivalent while the L-1 requires a pre-existing relationship with a company that does business both in the US and abroad.

Is a job offer mandatory? Most pathways require the candidate to already have a job offer, in which case an employer will submit a petition to USCIS on his/her behalf. However, some classifications, for example, those seeking lawful permanent resident status (Green Card), based on a classification as an individual with extraordinary ability (EB-1A category), allow self-petitioning, that is direct submission of an application or petition with USCIS.

Do these visas grant lawful permanent resident status? Some opportunities provide a basis for individuals, including STEM professionals, to obtain permanent resident status in the US. These opportunities are known as “immigrant” pathways. Others (for example, F-1 OPT, H-1B, L-1 and O-1), also known as “non-immigrant” pathways, allow you to temporarily live and work in the States. Many people who do work through one of these non-immigrant pathways eventually transition to permanent resident pathways, and eventually US citizenship.

Difference between STEM, STEAM, STREAM

STEM: STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It includes all the sub-disciplines within these fields.

STEAM: STEAM adds "Arts" to the elements of STEM, which benefits from creative and innovative thinking induced by the arts.

STREAM: STREAM incorporates another layer to STEM and STEAM by adding "Reading" into the equation.

Top 10 universities in the US

According to the US News and World Report, the top 10 universities in the US are (in order of 2022 ranking):

1.       Princeton University

2.      Massachusetts University

3.      Harvard University

4.      Stanford University

5.      Yale University

6.      University of Chicago

7.      University of Pennsylvania

8.     California Institute of Technology

9.     Duke University

10.  Northwestern University
Preeti Verma Lal is a Goa-based freelance writer/photographer.