Adrian Kulesza

As the job application process begins, many members of the class of 2019 are grappling with the ever-looming question — what do I want to do with my life?

And with the landscape of U.S. immigration policy in continuous flux under the Trump administration, this question is becoming increasingly difficult for Yale’s international students to answer, as they weigh additional concerns such as where they will be permitted to work, for how long and whether companies will be able — or willing — to sponsor their work visas. International students have long grappled with these concerns. But under the current administration, Director of the Office of International Students and Scholars Ann Kuhlman said, that byzantine process has become even more difficult to navigate.

Under U.S. President Donald Trump, United States Citizen and Immigration Services, which reviews visa petitions, has placed increased scrutiny on temporary work visa applications, and the percentage of applications denied has also shot up, according to a July report from the National Foundation for American Policy.

“The stricter policies, the talk of stricter policies, the increased scrutiny of applications and the general slowing down of the adjudication of applications have created an unprecedented climate of uncertainty,” Kuhlman said. “With this level of uncertainty, it is difficult to plan and for some students, options for post-graduation employment outside the U.S. becomes a more attractive possibility.”

In interviews with the News, four Yale seniors said the current uncertainty surrounding the options open to international students wishing to work in the U.S. has had a significant impact on their post-graduation plans.

Under the F-1 student visa program, Yale international students are permitted to stay in the United States for only 12 months of “optional practical training” after they graduate, though some students with degrees in STEM may be eligible for a 24-month extension to their 12-month post-completion visa. According to Kuhlman, between 45 and 50 percent of graduating international students across the University apply for F-1 optional practical training, and some do not actually end up working in the U.S. but apply to keep the option open.

But after the time period granted for optional practical training elapses, Yale international alumni must apply through their employers for an H1-B visa — a temporary visa that employers use to hire foreigners for three-year increments, with the possibility of extensions — in “specialty occupations” for which there are not enough skilled American workers available.

H1-B visas are in no way guaranteed. While the H1-B visa cap has remained at 65,000 visas for over 10 years, the demand for H1-B visas has skyrocketed over the past five — in 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security received 199,000 applications, making it the sixth consecutive year the number of visa applications submitted exceeded the cap. In comparison, from 2000 to 2013 the number of applications exceeded the cap just twice.

Based on U.S. Customs IS data from the 2017 fiscal year, the United States Citizen and Immigration Services started to increase both requests for evidence and denials for H1-B petitions shortly after Trump issued the “Buy American and Hire American” presidential executive order in April 2017.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, the total number of Requests For Evidence nearly reached the number of requests from the three previous quarters combined.

And the proportion of H-1B petitions denied for foreign-born professionals increased by 41 percent from the third to the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2017, rising from a denial rate of 15.9 percent in the third quarter to 22.4 percent in the fourth quarter.

The majority of seniors interviewed said that they have had to limit their applications to companies large enough to facilitate the work visa process and with enough international presence to allow them to relocate to countries with more lenient immigration policies — like Canada — if their work visa application is denied.

“The only way to feel security is to work at big multinational firms,” said Ademide Ajayi ’19, who has a job lined up at Bain & Company in New York City next year. “Despite the size of Bain, it’s still a lottery, so even at places at Bain, people don’t get a visa and have to be relocated. At a company like Bain that has offices all over the world, I have a lot more security.”

Certain smaller companies simply do not accept applications from college graduates who are not permanent residents of the United States, said Omar Ashraf ’19, a computer science major from Pakistan, because they are either unwilling or unable to pay to sponsor a nonpermanent resident employee’s visa application.

Ashraf, who is looking for jobs in Silicon Valley, said he was not able to apply to jobs at startups, since most of them will not sponsor visas.

And even at companies that do accept nonpermanent residents, international students automatically are placed in a smaller, more selective pool, since companies hire them under the assumption that they will have to put in the time and money to sponsor their visas.

Ashraf said he usually applies for jobs in person instead of online, so he can meet the recruiters and then slip into conversation that he needs visa sponsorship.

“If you check that box [that says you need a visa sponsorship], you put yourself at a disadvantage right away,” Ashraf said.

Adelaide Feibel | adelaide.feibel@yale.edu

  • CitizenOfACorruptNation

    Re: Optional Practical Training (OPT)

    OPT amounts to the government offering a $30,000 incentive to employers for hiring a foreign student instead of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This bonus takes the form of the employer being exempt from paying payroll tax for their foreign student workers (due to their student status, which they technically still have under OPT in spite of having graduated). Why hire Americans, eh?

    Since this tax exemption from payroll tax was pointed out in a lawsuit against DHS, and has been one of the major points raised by critics, DHS is well aware of it. Yet they’re refusing to address it or even acknowledge it.

    In contrast to DHS previous statements, in which they openly admitted that they intend OPT as an end-run around the H-1B cap, they now describe OPT in warm and fuzzy terms of “mentoring” (putting the “T” back into OPT). That raises several questions:

    If the U.S. indeed “needs” the foreign students (DHS’s phrasing on this point verges on desperation) to remedy a STEM labor shortage, why do these students need training? The DHS/industry narrative is that the U.S. lacks sufficient workers with STEM training, while the foreign workers are supposedly already trained. And, if workers with such training are indeed needed, why won’t these special mentoring programs be open to Americans? Why just offer them to foreign students? Since DHS admitted that its motivation in OPT is to circumvent the H-1B cap, does that mean that if the cap were high enough to accommodate everyone, these same foreign students wouldn’t need training after all?

  • Lance

    Sadly, Trump’s contentious issue is yet one more thing that makes being an international student away from home difficult, compounded by our complex culture and language problems. Welcoming and assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources, including the White House, to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand.
    Something that might help anyone coming to the US is the award-winning worldwide book/ebook “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” Used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it identifies how “foreigners” have become successful in the US, including students.
    It explains how to cope with a confusing new culture and friendship process, and daunting classroom differences. It explains how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.
    It also identifies the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Good luck to all at Yale or wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who shout the loudest! Supporters of int’l students must shout louder.

  • Perturbed Pundit

    Re: H-1B Visa

    While lobbying Congress for more H-1B visas, industry claims H-1B workers are the “best and brightest”. Come payday, however, they’re entry-level workers.

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) put out a report on the H-1B visa that discusses at some length the fact that the vast majority of H-1B workers are hired into entry-level positions. In fact, most are at “Level I”, which is officially defined by the Dept. of Labor as those who have a “basic understanding of duties and perform routine tasks requiring limited judgment”. Moreover, the GAO found that a mere 6% of H-1B workers are at “Level IV”, which is officially defined by the Dept. of Labor as those who are “fully competent”. This belies the industry lobbyists’ claims that H-1B workers are hired because they’re experts that can’t be found among the U.S. workforce.

    The wage rules for H-1B and green card sponsorship are broken down into Levels I, II, III and IV, with Level III being the median. For software developers, the most common type of foreign tech worker, the green card data show the following percentages of foreign workers at Levels I or II making below-median wages: Amazon 91%; Facebook 91%; and Google 96%. These firms, putatively in the vanguard of advanced technology and certainly in the vanguard in Capitol Hill lobbying regarding H-1B, are paying almost all of their foreign workers – supposedly, the “best and brightest” – wages below the median for the given region.