The Biden administration plans to unveil new steps on Friday to retain international students who specialize in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as part of its effort to counter China, officials said.
The measures will allow specialists in STEM fields to use cultural-exchange visas to stay for up to 3 years of training.
A program allowing those on student visas to stay for an extended period of training will also be expanded to areas such as data science, cloud computing and data visualization.
“Other countries, most notably China, are using STEM talent to try to supplant the United States as the world’s foremost scientific and technological innovator,” one of the officials told reporters.
It now far surpasses the United States, long home to many of the world’s top research universities, in the number of undergraduates and doctoral students in the fields critical to economic growth, the official said.
Although the United States hosts about a million international college students, more than any other nation, their number has fallen in recent years, the Institute of International Education says.
A Georgetown University study projected that China will produce 77,000 graduates in STEM fields by 2025, versus 40,000 in the United States, where foreign students will make up a large share.
President Joe Biden has said he regards competition with China as the country’s top national security challenge.
The new steps, which do not require congressional action, come as Biden’s legislative strategy for tackling both legal and illegal immigration has stalled. A major immigration proposal he made in his first days in office has gone nowhere in Congress.
Immigration policy in Biden’s first year in office has instead been dominated by a massive resettlement of Afghan refugees, record-breaking border arrests, unfavorable court decisions, Republican opposition in Congress and internal divisions between liberals and moderates in the administration.
The new initiatives will help make it easier for immigrants to argue that they qualify for special visas reserved for athletes, researchers and others of extraordinary ability.
In a fact sheet, the White House called the policy change consistent with its “priorities to restore faith in the legal immigration system.”