Biden Adminstration Makes Important Changes to Visas


At its December meeting, the ASCB Council met with staff from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy about the immigration-related difficulties many in our community face.

The “off the record,” “you never heard this from me” meeting allowed members of Council to have a frank conversation with a policymaker who might be able to address some of the immigration and visa issues that often hinder science. Council also heard that the Biden administration would soon be making changes to the immigration and visa system. 

About a month later, the White House announced several policy changes that are important first steps in addressing these visa issues.

Most importantly, the administration has doubled the length of stay for those international students in the United States on J-1 visas. The current 18-month cap has been extended to 36 months.

Changes will be made to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. OPT allows trainees with F-1 visas to work in the United States at the conclusion of their studies. The Biden administration will add 22 additional degree categories to the list of eligible subject areas, which already includes cell and molecular biology. 

Up until now, OPT students were allowed to stay in the United States for 12 months after graduation. The Biden Administration is extending that time period from 12 months to 36 months.

Previously, some advanced degree holders had to prove they had a job offer in the United States before receiving a visa waiver. The Biden policy now waives that requirement. Having a doctoral degree will now be considered as a “positive factor” when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials review visa applications. 

The State Department is also creating a new Early Career STEM Research Initiative program that will make it easier for exchange students to come to the United States under the BridgeUSA program. 

The Biden Administration hopes that these changes and future changes will reduce the immigration barriers many international scientists face when trying to come to the United States to train.

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: