What is a STEM Degree?
The acronym STEM stands for several fields of study that are growing exponentially in popularity throughout the United States and the world in the past few years. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Current list of programs (as in 2016) as part of STEM can be found in https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/stem-list.pdf. This acronym has been used in particular regarding the access to
visas to work in the United States for immigrants who have skills in one or more of these fields. As technology becomes an ever-present part of life throughout the world, these fields are expected to become more and more important, and therefore career opportunities for students of any nationality will be unlimited in any of these fields.
Why are these important to the American government?
STEM degrees are in high demand in the United States in order to be competitive in the world market and because the U.S. government is only recently discovering the apparent shortage of students and professionals educated in these fields the push to drive students from the U.S. and abroad into these fields has grown tremendously.
In 2012, the United States Department of Homeland Security announced an expanded list (2016 list includes many more programs related to science) of science, technology, engineering, and math related-degree programs that qualify graduates on student visas to enter into an optional practical training extension. Simply put, the United States is eager to put more STEM trained students into their work force and this means there have been many changes to student and work visa requirements for students with these educational backgrounds.
Under this new OPT program, international students in STEM field who graduate from U.S. colleges and universities, can remain in the U.S. to receive training and work experience for up to 12 months, or an additional 17 months on OPT STEM extension.
Why are STEM Degrees important for immigrants seeking to live in the U.S.?
In simple terms, earning a STEM Degree as an international student is one's ticket through the door to eventually earning a work visa or possible U.S. citizenship, but it's also the first step down the path of a very promising career. The U.S. department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics published in their Occupational Outlook Handbook, details regarding STEM field's careers as some of the greatest growth potential and highest paying jobs for the 21st century. They also identified fourteen sectors that are expected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy, affecting the growth of other industries as well. For students who are looking for growing job opportunities, high wages, and the opportunity to work in the United States or other prosperous countries, a STEM field education could be the most useful tool you have.
Not only are STEM field degrees in high demand, the U.S. and other governments recognition of this need is opening up new pathways for foreign students, improving access to educational institutions in the United States and making the possibility of working after graduation much more likely than in the past with new doors to obtaining student and work visas quickly and easily.
What can you do to earn a STEM degree?
Clearly a STEM degree is an essential component to obtaining the career of the future and the pathways to earning this degree are in some ways limitless. Schools throughout the U.S. specialize in STEM fields and international students are currently earning over 50% of the STEM degrees awarded each year so these fields are certainly popular.
Begin by exploring your fields of interest, assessing your skills, and preparing to apply for admissions to a U.S. undergraduate or graduate program. Admissions processes will require your educational transcripts, letters of recommendations as well as letter of application which will all take time and effort to obtain. Earning a high score on the TOEFL and possibly on other entrance exams such as the SAT or GRE, depending on your level, are also essential to the admissions process.
With some hard work and focus it is possible for students from all around to take advantage of this growing career field and the possibilities it brings.