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