Life after the student visa: Work visa challenges, benefits

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See also “Are student visa challenges deterring international students?”

Carly MacLennan is from Canada, a country that is geographically very close to the U.S.; however, MacLennan has still experienced visa difficulties in much the same way that residents of many other nations when attempting to live and work in the U.S.

MacLennan taught in northern California on an OPT visa after completing her undergraduate schooling. She expected to remain there for a couple of years and then to continue teaching on a TN visa. However, MacLennan soon found out the TN visa was only for college, university and seminary teachers and that she would soon be deported.

Although MacLennan had an offer to extend her dream teaching job, she was unable to work legally as a teacher. Within a week of being notified, she had to resign from her job and sell her apartment. MacLennan felt lost and knew if she went back to Canada, her teaching degree wouldn’t transfer right away, so she decided to apply for a student visa in order to remain in the U.S. After much difficulty, MacLennan was accepted into BYU’s MBA program — just in the nick of time.

International students often find themselves wanting to stay longer on a work visa after graduating from American universities, but work visas can be difficult to come by.

According to Forbes, there are 85,000 H-1B work visas available each year — 65,000 are for those with a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent, and 20,000 are for those with at least a master’s degree. The demand for H-1B visas is much higher, but according to Fortune magazine, in 2018, “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it received 190,098 applications, marking a noticeable drop from the 199,000 applications in 2017.”

Data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Exchange Visitor Program, and Forbes. (Auburn Wilcox)

Although the demand for H-1B visas is still much higher than the supply, why are H-1B work visa applications declining?

According to immigration lawyer Kim Buhler-Thomas, the current climate of immigration in the U.S. is challenging. Buhler-Thomas describes it as an “invisible wall.”

“The invisible walls are most evident in programs such as  H-1B, specialty skilled work visas that many foreign student graduates of U.S. universities apply for. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has literally created a wall of red-tape to discourage U.S. companies from hiring foreign workers,” Buhler-Thomas said. “They have put every application to increased scrutiny and issued an unprecedented number of request for additional evidence on cases that, prior to President Trump’s ‘buy American, hire American’ (executive order), were approved without an audit.”

Buhler-Thomas said this “wall” has caused untold heartaches as processing times have increased, causing some to have to leave the U.S. to wait for their visas.

According to Minji Kim, a BYU student from South Korea studying civil engineering, finding a job can often be difficult.

“It is hard to find internships or job offers as an international student,” Kim said.

International students still see benefits in receiving degrees in the U.S. and possibly working here after graduation despite the fact that work visas are often difficult to come by. In fact, according to Sam Brown, the director of the BYU International Student and Scholar Services Office, “we have a higher graduation rate for our international students than we do for our domestic students.”

Good educational opportunities

Maria Fernanda Arryan is a student from Peru studying at BYU who said she decided to study in the U.S. because of the educational opportunities.

“The education is better, and I wanted to build a stronger network and have more opportunities to work,” Arrayan said.

Flexible schedule

Mathilde Pinault, a student from France studying at Mesa Community College, said the flexible schedule of schooling in the U.S. attracted her to study here.

“The biggest benefit to me is how the schools are. I love that I can pick out my classes and choose days and times that I wish to go to school. This is helpful as it allows me to work around my work schedule,” Pinault said.

Experiencing another culture

Rodrigo Jose Sanchez Raygoza is a student from Mexico studying at BYU-Idaho.

“Getting to know other places was another factor that contributed to the decision of coming. It is always interesting and exciting to see and experience another culture, and since most movies are made based on the American lifestyle, it was a great opportunity to experience that myself,” Raygoza said.

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