NEW YORK: The United States federal government changed rules for non-immigrant student visas on Friday, saying that international students will now be eligible to stay for three years after finishing their degrees for training potentially leading to employment.

Only students earning degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields from accredited higher education institutes and employed by employers participating in E-Verify are eligible for the optional practical training (OPT) program.

The new rule is seven months longer than the previous 17 month rule and comes into effect on May 10, 2016. The extension is also meant to widen the window of time to match fresh graduates with employers looking for skilled talented workers.

Previously, students had to apply for a visa known as H-1B, given by lottery and capped at 65,000 with 20,000 reserved for those with advanced degrees.

The extension was met with a mixed response even before it was published as immigration reform and unemployment remain hot topics in the US and wage protections are just one measure the ruling includes for both international STEM OPT students and permanent American workers.

According to the new rules, “a STEM OPT student would not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent US worker,” and that the salary offered would “be commensurate” to American workers.

Full text of the ruling can be found here.

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