The cliques have started to form. With just one last short semester lying between seniors and graduation, the future has been heavy on everyone’s minds. Seniors are scouring their friend groups to find who will be joining them in their new city post-grad. The future New Yorkers, Bostonians, and San Franciscans are packing together to discuss housing and late-night eateries. It’s the quiet comfort of knowing that in the next phase of life, you won’t be alone.
I, unfortunately, am relatively assured to be alone. No matter where I go to law school, I know that the majority of my friends will not be in the same city. Before this turns into a couple hundred words of self-pity, it’s important to note that I am an American passport-wielding international student. This status means that when the majority of my class was doing last-minute shopping at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, I was sitting in a seminar called “How to live with Americans,” along with over a hundred other international freshmen. And so my group of close friends for the past three years has largely consisted of these international individuals.
Unlike me, most of my friends do not have American passports and are instead on F-1 visas to study here. The American politics of immigration are at the root of my friendless future. My friends are intelligent, Georgetown-educated individuals of whom quite a number would like to remain in the United States after graduation. For many of them, however, this outcome will not be possible.
The current student visa laws are as such that, upon graduation, each student on an F-1 visa has 90 days to find employment before they are required to leave the country, at which point it becomes very difficult to obtain a long-term visa to return. Three months is too short a period of time to find employment, especially considering that most of them don’t have living quarters in the United States after graduation.
Post-grad employment can come in one of two forms: optional practical training, which lasts for a year, granted they are hired in a field related to their studies, or an H-1B visa, which lasts for maximum three years. OPT is really meant to be a training program, which the student must pay for, after which an employer may choose whether or not to continue to employ the individual. If employment is continued, the individual would then apply for an H-1B visa. Acquiring the H-1B visa then requires a “sponsorship” fee, which is upwards of $5,000 in costs for the employer, a significant portion of most starting salaries. For many firms, this cost is simply too high, and a few of my friends have been told, “You’re what we’re looking for, but we don’t do sponsorship.”
In dealing with the potential brain drain of foreign graduates from American four-year universities, the government has extended OPT for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics majors from one year to 29 months. Students that study outside of these fields, however, are at a considerable disadvantage. In most cases, the firms that are willing to sponsor are large consulting firms, large technology firms, and large financial firms. It is therefore very difficult for those who want to work outside of these fields to find potential employers. Even those who do want to work within those fields have the added obstacle of proving that their undergraduate programs of study relate to their employment.
It is an understandable response from American citizens to say that youth unemployment currently stands at around 16 percent, and as such we should focus on employing Americans. H-1B visas, however, make up such a small percentage of the economy, with the number of H-1B visas being as low as 65,000 per year, and although the Senate passed a bill in June 2013 that would increase this number to 110,000 per year, this argument is still unjustifiable. For the nearly 800,000 foreign students that graduate from U.S. undergraduate colleges per year, there is currently less than a ten percent chance of obtaining a long term work visa.
For many foreign students, particularly those that attended U.S. boarding schools for high school, the United States is their home. Refusing to allow them to stay post-grad because of immigration laws forces the U.S. to lose educated, intelligent, and often bilingual workers. Foreign graduates of U.S. colleges bring the education that our schools pride themselves on with the diversity that made this nation exceptional. It’s time we welcome them with open arms.