President Biden Streamlines O-1 Visas for STEM Applicants
February 16, 2023
By: Accel Visa Attorneys, PC
In an effort to accelerate the nation’s investments in high-skilled foreign workers and drive economic growth, the Biden-Harris Administration has put innovation and discovery at the forefront of immigration. In January 2022, the Administration’s proposed new immigration policies have signaled a more welcoming approach to immigration, particularly when it comes to attracting and retaining international talent in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), a field that the White House described as “critical to the prosperity, security, and health of our Nation…”
The shift in policy is motivated, in part, by concerns that the U.S. is losing ground to other countries in the global competition for talent. By promoting policies that facilitate the entry and retention of talented foreign-born scientists, engineers, and experts in STEM, the administration hopes to strengthen the U.S. economy and maintain America’s leadership position in these critical fields. The changes to O-1A visa petitions, for example, are seen as part of this broader effect.
According to the updates to the Policy Manual, the administration issued guidance on the types of evidence that can be considered in evaluating an O-1A petition, expanding the eligibility criteria for O-1A applicants in STEM fields, and directing USCIS to adopt a broader interpretation of the “extraordinary ability” standard. Additionally, the changes provide insight on the matters that an adjudicating officer may take into consideration when evaluating the evidence. New regulation includes additional STEM-specific factors that can be used as persuasive evidence of extraordinary ability, such as:
1) the rank, impact factor or prestige of journals in which the beneficiary’s articled have been published;
2) the frequency of citations to the beneficiary’s work, or their “h-index” (a metric that measures both the productivity and impact of a researcher’s work);
3) the beneficiary’s role in the publication, such as being the most significant or senior author, or the sole author;
4) whether the beneficiary gained research experience at a highly regarded research center or university, either in the U.S. or abroad;
5) whether the beneficiary has been invited to speak or present research at nationally or internationally recognized conferences in their industry; and,
6) whether the beneficiary has been named as an investigator, scientist, or researcher on a peer-reviewed, competitively funded government grant or stipend for STEM research.
These positive developments clarify how statutory criteria apply to STEM fields. They allow for O-1A visas to be more accessible to the subset of individuals with extraordinary ability in STEM, and who occupy the top-tier internationally recognized positions in their fields.
In the race to win on technology and all allied fields, the U.S. has a vested interested in attracting international talent in STEM fields to further research and development particularly in rapidly growing sectors such as artificial intelligence, e-mobility, and biotechnology. As evidenced in the updates to the O-1A visa petition policies, the recent policy changes enacted by the White House are signaling a broader shift towards a more pro-immigrant stance on the part of the current administration. Ultimately, these updates create a welcoming and inclusive immigration system that recognizes the contributions of immigrants to the U.S. economy.
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