STEM jobs
Computing and IT courses are the most popular among international STEM students in the US. Source: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs are growing faster than ever in the US, creating a more urgent need for education and training in high-demand areas. American broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) has pointed out that the number of STEM jobs has surpassed the number of non-STEM jobs by three times since 2000. As we know, international graduates are key to filling this gap in the US.

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), over half of international students in the US are studying or working in STEM. Most of them come from China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, though large percentages of students from Iran, Bangladesh, and Nigeria are also involved in STEM. A small portion of these international graduates are in the country under the Optional Training Programme (OPT), which allows graduates to work in STEM jobs for up to three years after earning their qualification from an American institution.

STEM jobs

With its access to resources and technology, the US makes an attractive destination for international students pursuing STEM education and employment. Source: Khaled Desouki/AFP

Computing and IT to dominate STEM jobs

According to the IIE, computer technology is the number one STEM major today. This trend corresponds with its growing application across industries, where cloud computing, big data, and information security are assuming greater importance. Experts in these areas will be able to choose from various lucrative STEM jobs.

Unsurprisingly, computer and information technology jobs are set to grow “much faster than the average for all occupations,” according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These STEM jobs are projected to grow 11% from 2019 to 2029, which will create over 500,000 jobs in the American labour market. The Society for Human Resource Management predicts that there will collectively be 3.5 million STEM jobs to fill by 2025.

Opportunity for a rewarding career abroad

As Kenneth Hecht, leader of the National STEM Honor Society, told VOA, “A STEM education and a STEM career can change the trajectory of one family’s path and even others.” One of the primary incentives is a high-paying salary, especially if you clinch in a position in Silicon Valley. A 2021 study by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) found that, “In much of the US, STEM graduates are in short supply. Students who graduate with a STEM major typically earn more than other graduates, especially early in their career.”

STEM jobs

Tech and political leaders alike recognise the value of  international graduates in their organisations. Source: Jag Gundu/Getty Images/AFP

In US immigration, for example, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) prioritises high earners in the new H-1B visa selection system. You can apply for this work visa after the OPT, which gives STEM students a significant head start in collecting industry experience — a clear advantage when applying for a work visa. USCIS approved 388,403 H-1B petitions in 2019, with close to 72% of successful applicants coming from India; of this, 66% planned to work in IT.

Tech and political leaders alike know the value of the international graduates who take up STEM jobs in their organisations. Back in July 2020, companies such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft wrote to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), “America’s future competitiveness depends on attracting and retaining talented international students.” More recently, these same leaders voiced support for the OPT graduate work programme in court.

“Graduates of American colleges and universities should be able to stay in the US to develop and contribute their skills here, rather than taking them to other countries to compete against us,” said President Todd Schulte, who led the amicus brief. With millions of STEM jobs to be filled in the near future, where will you build your expertise? Check out the top universities in the US to start.