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H-1B Visa: an uncertain path after college

Iris Cao stands in front of Mirror Lake after graduating from Ohio State in 2016. Credit: Iris Cao

Two years ago, Mia Yu traveled all the way from her home in Beijing and stepped onto American soil for the first time in her life. It was the beginning of what she hoped would be her journey to having a foot in two countries.

“If I had work opportunities both here and back home, I would choose to stay here,” said Yu, a second-year in math. “I think there are more opportunities here. In China, I know I could find a good job because my parents know people, but maybe it’s not based on how good I am but rather how they view my parents who connected me to the job.”

Like Yu, many international students apply to American universities in hopes of one day getting a job. Some are looking for economic opportunity; some are looking for the freedom they believe America has to offer; and some enjoy the cultural differences from their own countries.

But for all international students who want to stay and work in the U.S. after college, there is one thing they must all contend with: applying for the H-1B visa.

The H-1B visa is a legal document that allows companies to hire international students and professionals from all over the world to work and live in the U.S. A section of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the program was put in place by Congress to help companies and international workers aid American companies that might not be able to find the skills they need in the local workforce.

After attending small schools in China for most of her life, Yu realized she wanted a different experience for her college career.

“I found Ohio State on the U.S college rankings website and knew I wanted to go to a bigger school,” Yu said. Although Yu’s dream of attending a big university has come true with the certainty of her student visa, she worries about her post-graduation plans, even as a second-year student.

“I plan to go to graduate school after Ohio State, because I think a master’s degree will really help me find a good job and maybe after I can go to a big city like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York City,” Yu said. “But I think I will be upset if I don’t get the H-1B visa, because to stay here is my first choice.”

The H-1B visa program has its limitations, specifically the high demand that hinders many applicants from receiving it. In April 2017, the threshold for visa applicants hit a cap in four days.

Although companies are allowed to pay for the application, there is only a limited number to be approved. Each year, 85,000 H-1B visas are available for foreign professionals. Of those, 20,000 are set aside for international students like Yu who are graduating from American educational institutions.

Another issue facing international students is the Trump administration’s current push to have Congress reform the program so American companies are forced to hire more domestic workers.

Despite having the qualifications to apply for a work visa, Yu is not confident that she will get one immediately, which could mean a flight back home to Beijing.

Mia Yu poses for a photo after discussing her post-graduation plans. Credit: Shanti Lerner | Lantern reporter

“Usually there are more applicants than visas that are given away,” she said. “It’s like a lottery, it all depends on your luck.”

Iris Cao, an Ohio State international student alumna from China who graduated in 2016, also is about to approach this same obstacle.

Cao said she came to Ohio State to explore more abundant work opportunities. She currently works at Arizona State University as a coordinator for clubs and organizations, but has yet to acquire an H-1B visa.

Cao is in the U.S. under the Optional Practical Training legislation that is set in place by the government to allow newly graduated international students to work for one year without having to apply for a visa.

“That will be the conversation for me next year, to be in communication with my employer, to see if they are willing to sponsor me,” Cao said. My challenge is: Will the university I work for be willing to invest or go through the whole process for me next year? If they are willing, then the next question is: Will I get approved in time for me to continue on with my employment?”

Cao said the visa system does not give applicants a fair chance at staying in the U.S.

“If your time is up, then you have to go home,” she said.


  1. Both the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program and the H-1B visa are vehicles that put US citizens at a great disadvantage and need to be reformed. Here’s why:

    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 excempt 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 was 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?

    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 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 US Dept. of Labor as those who are “fully competent” [1]. 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.

    So this means one of two things: either employers are looking for entry-level workers (in which case, their rhetoric about needing “the best and brightest” is meaningless), or they’re looking for more experienced workers but only paying them at the Level I, entry-level pay scale. In my opinion, employers are using the H-1B visa to engage in legalized age discrimination, as the vast majority of H-1B workers are under the age of 35 [2], especially those at the Level I and Level II categories.

    Any way you slice it, it amounts to H-1B visa abuse, all facilitated and with the blessings of the US government.

    The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has never shown a sharp upward trend of Computer Science graduate starting salaries, which would indicate a labor shortage (remember – the vast majority of H-1B visas are granted for computer-related positions). In fact, according to their survey for Fall 2015, starting salaries for CS grads went down by 4% from the prior year. This is particularly interesting in that salaries overall rose 5.2% [3][4].

    [1] GAO-11-26: H-1B VISA PROGRAM – Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program
    [2] Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers Fiscal Year 2016 Annual Report to Congress October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016
    [3] NACE Fall 2015 Salary Survey
    [4] NACE Salary Survey – September 2014 Executive Summary

    • Clearly H1B needs to go Why does any company on american soil get to outsource to the lowest cost person versus get incentive to train someone here. Ohio State should only be focused on educating Ohioans in my opinion.

      • Stop blaming Immigrants

        All this talk about hiring and training American citizens. Yet you realize we have a shortage of STEM and qualified candidates because of the lack of funding for primary and secondary education. How do you think we got to this point of relying on H1-B and OPT?

        • If you read my original message above – it would be clear why the US uses H-1B/OPT. Cheap labor.

          Shortage? The Census Bureau reported that a stunning 74 percent of those who have a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering and math are not employed in STEM occupations [1].

          The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has never shown a sharp upward trend of Computer Science graduate starting salaries, which would indicate a labor shortage (remember – the vast majority of H-1B visas are granted for computer-related positions). In fact, according to their survey for Fall 2015, starting salaries for CS grads went down by 4% from the prior year. This is particularly interesting in that salaries overall rose 5.2% [2][3].

          [1] “Census Bureau Reports Majority of STEM College Graduates Do Not Work in STEM Occupations”, July 10, 2014, Release Number: CB14-130, U.S. Census Bureau
          [2] NACE Fall 2015 Salary Survey
          [3] NACE Salary Survey – September 2014 Executive Summary

  2. “Oh so sad, the universe revolves around me and yet the US government did not screw its own citizens in time just to make my own dreams come true…”

    All these “heart wrenching” stories about how a poor pretty innocent foriegn student or H-1B child are so silly. What about the problems put uppon the millions of innocent citizens by these programs? Please stop wasting the time publishing this rubbish.

    Perhaps we should just deny all student and H-4 visas if these kids/parents/spouses are too irresponsible, greedy, and ignorant to take care of the best interest of themselves and their dependents.

  3. I absolutely agree with the “US Citizen”. The rules for H-1B visas are clear. And from the ‘get-go’ everyone knows when their time is up they ‘go home’. So they took the risk and they own the outcomes. Quit wasting ink on a non-issue. and do something to support America?? This is not productive.

  4. G. Norman Crump Sr

    The various types of US Governmental programs to allow otherwise not legally made green card people be employable is basically and has always been a wage busting and union/local worker busting tactic to drive down the cost of living index ie inflation which costs the government Cost of Living Index adjustment funds. I have personally witnessed these abuses since before 1971. Very few of these so called College Trained Experts are really experts in only one thing; that is scamming the people whose jobs they are taking. I was even asked, while the Senior Corporate ManTech Project Engineer for a major US Corporation in CA, to write a training manual describing all my duties as well as full details of my Invention that the whole Manned Flight Industry has now incorporated as the preferred system; plus provide extensive training to the three so called Expert Aerospace Engineers who were hired to replace ME! I politely refused and agreed to be given a good severance package to prevent a lawsuit. These experts never were even able to learn enough about my in operation system to even to replace the expert welder who I had trained how to modify the programs on the floppy disc for a particular type of operation to cover changes in the size, wall thickness, and type of material in the product. They had a three year contract at far less than the normal starting wage for a US College BS graduate with a B average of better, plus no vacation pay, plus no social security/unemployment benefits, etc.; but they did have medical insurance from the company and a return ticket to Europe at the end of the contract. This is similar to the crop workers contract of 1965 and onward which had similar terms but provided annual return ticket plus local housing benefits but only had a minimum hours per week payment of 30 hours with no maximum limit of hours. BTW President Reagon did establish the monetary price for a Green Card as $1.2 billion plus the creation of 12 jobs for US citizens. Then our “wonderful” President William Clinton decided he could win a lot of approval if he reduced the price to $480,000 with only 8 jobs created without any distinction as to whether they were for US Citizens. Now you see all these motels and restaurants which have been bought for at least $480,000 that have 8 or more non US citizens whose green cards are for “immediate” families of the original Green Card purchase. A real wild twist on this whole scenario happens after about 4 or 5 years; the original purchaser sells the motel or restaurant to another $480,000 investor and pays off his original loan back in the nation from which he came and keeps his profits but stays right on in the USA with his so called family which often goes elsewhere. The cycle can repeat without any interference. A new twist was in the Moscow offering of apartment ownership in NYCity and New Jersey by people tied into the Trump group who were building a very expensive Upper End Apartment or hotel complex for a half million dollars with the assurance that this investment would result in a Green Card issuance. Another scam by a supporter of Hilliary Clinton whose name can be dug up in the newspaper archives was the creation of an electric vehicle manufacturing company in MS which actually got funds from that state to help build the site. All but one of the 12 “owners” were Asiatic noncitizen; the other was a VA associate of the Clintons. No cars were ever built and the fate of these green carders is not known because there was talk of fraud charges being levied.

    All of us whose ancestors fought for and won ownership of this territory which we called the United States of America did not agree to provide a portion of our ownership to other people as a free gift. I and my ancestors did not get any free gifts. We earned our ownership with blood, sweat, hard work, and even some tears and death. They and we knew that other people and nations would try to take our liberty, wealth, land, and future away from us so the Constitution they created was specific in that it guaranteed that “There will be no laws to infringe upon the militia’s right to possess, bear (and even use) arms” to allow us to defend ourselves, our nation, and our property. It also said none of our property can be taken without compensation as determined by a jury of our peers: NOT by a governmental appointed appraisal person whose lucrative appointment depends upon pleasing the government that appoints.

    The tragedy that happened in FL and the one that happened in Texas were both proof that the government has very little success in the protecting the public. Each case, the laws limiting access to weapons by a criminal or mentally disturbed person was ignored by the governmental people whose job was to enforce the law. The police usually arrive in time to write up the report of the tragedy rather than to prevent the act. In the FL case, the murderer was captured by a neighboring town’s policeman after the police were finally told where the killer was walking to by the man in whose home the killer was living and from whom the rifle was taken from the rifle case without permission. The solution for this type of event is to return to the proven method of defense of the legal citizenry which meant at the time of the US Constitution the Free Male Citizens over the legal age of 21. School teachers should be deputized to carry and use weapons to protect the school after they pass both mental testing and weapon proficiency testing. Any person who fails the test should have to pay for a substitute in order to retain their job as teacher, coach,administrator..

  5. Thank you for defining an H-1B visa for me. My cousin was born in a different country and is looking to come to the US for school, so we’re looking into her options for visas. Thank you for the information about how this visa allows companies to hire international students and professionals from all over the world to work and live in the U.S. https://www.buhlerlawoffice.com/practice-areas/immigration-law/h1b-visa/

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