Starting in July, students and recent graduates will have a clear path into the federal workforce, under new rules the Office of Personnel Management will issue Friday.

The rules, which establish three separate Pathway Programs, are in response to an executive order issued by President Obama in December 2010 that shut down the Federal Career Intern Program. Critics said the intern program was not limited to students, was often used to fill civil service vacancies and undermined the hiring preferences for veterans.

OPM’s new Pathway Programs will have three routes for students and graduates to enter the federal workforce. An Internship Program will be limited to currently enrolled high school, college or post-graduate students at qualifying educational institutions. After 640 hours, interns would be eligible to convert to the civil service, though a supervisor could recommend conversion after 320 hours. Only actively enrolled students can be called interns, a change from old regulations, when interns could be graduates.

A new Recent Graduates Program would offer a developmental program to people who have recently graduated from qualifying educational institutions or programs. After a year of service, plus mandatory training, recent graduates will be eligible for the permanent civil service.

Participants would have two years after graduating to apply for the graduates program.

The existing Presidential Management Fellows Program, the government’s leadership development initiative, is being kept, with changes expanding the eligibility window for applicants. People will be able to nominate themselves for the program.

“We view this as being a significant move for government in its efforts to attract students and recent grads in particular,” said Tim McManus, vice president of education and outreach at the Partnership for Public Service.

Students will have two years after graduating to apply for the recent graduates and Presidential Management Fellows program. OPM will post internship and recent graduate opportunities.

“I am giving a number of commencement addresses this year and part of the message I’m carrying to students is ‘your government needs you and we want you and we hope you consider government service,’” said OPM director John M. Berry.

“Not since Kennedy’s generation have we seen the same response to the call for public service,” Berry added.

There are no initial caps on the programs, which concerns some federal unions.

“As in the FCIP, the final Pathways regulations fail to limit either the number of employees who may be hired under the Programs or the types of positions that can be filled, said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. “These glaring omissions endanger the competitive hiring system that has served the nation so well for so long.”

Students who graduated after Dec. 27, 2010, when the president issued his executive order, will have two years starting July 10 to apply to the Recent Graduates and Presidential Management Fellows programs. Veterans will have a six-year window to apply to the programs.

“We’re trying to make sure this program works for our veterans as well,” Berry said.

OPM proposed the rule in August and received 238 public comments.