State Department Provides Important Update/FAQ on Expansion of J-1 Academic Training in STEM Fields

State Department Provides Important Update/FAQ on Expansion of J-1 Academic Training in STEM Fields

The U.S. Department of State has posted a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to the bottom of their announcement of January 21, 2022 that it will expand J-1 Academic Training employment authorization eligibility to students in Undergraduate (Bachelor’s degree) and Pre-Doctoral (Master’s degree level) students in certain STEM-designated fields of study.

The announcement and FAQ can be viewed here

In the FAQ, and in subsequent outreach to USDOS, the following important clarification has been provided:  the total Academic Training authorization period, even for students in a STEM-designated field, will not exceed the length of the student’s academic program.

The FAQ provides this specific guidance:

What is the maximum duration of STEM-related Academic Training and how does it apply to university programs that are less than three years in length?
The maximum total length of academic training for this initiative is capped at 36 months (including a single extension), inclusive of any prior academic training in the United States as an exchange visitor, or the period of the full course of study in the United States, whichever is less.  If you are currently enrolled in a STEM program, maximum academic training eligibility is equal to the amount of time of your studies.  Exchange visitors in one-year programs are only eligible for one year of academic training, two-year university programs are eligible for two years of academic training, and four-year programs are eligible for the maximum three years of academic training.  Talk to your sponsor about eligibility and submission of an extension request.

So, for students in an academic program that has a duration of less than 36 months will only be eligible for a total period of Academic Training authorization equal to the length of program.  For example, a student who pursues and completes a 12-month Master’s degree program will only be eligible for 12 months TOTAL of Academic Training (and not an additional period of STEM authorization beyond that 12 months). 
A student in a 21-month Master’s degree program would only be eligible for 21 months TOTAL of Academic Training (18 months of initial authorization plus applying for a 3-month STEM extension to reach the 21-month maximum).
An Undergraduate student who completes a 4-year Bachelor’s degree program in an eligible STEM field would be eligible for 36 months total of Academic Training authorization since their length of program is longer than 36 months (an initial authorization of 18 months plus applying for an 18-month STEM extension to reach the 36-month maximum).

Given that the initial announcement was not clear on these points, and the FAQ has led to additional questions, the ISO has sent an inquiry to USDOS for clarification on a few points provided in the FAQ.  We will be sure to update students once we receive a response and clarification of the eligibility and process for the J-1 Academic Training STEM extension.