By Shierly Mondianti
Special to the Northwest Asian Weekly
The United States Senate recently passed an immigration reform bill that they said would fix our broken immigration system. In short, the bill boasts a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., an overall increase in most visa caps for each fiscal year, and a system (E-Verify) to track unlawful employment of unauthorized aliens, among other provisions.
But though all of the aforementioned sounds monumental, the bill itself is ironically not welcoming of F-1 Visa students, the majority of the international students in our education system.
When an F-1 Visa student finishes their undergraduate education in the United States, they have three different options.
Choice number one, the best case scenario, is to apply for post-graduate optional practical training (OPT), obtain employment, impress their boss, and be sponsored for an H-1B Visa, a temporary work permit. The second choice, a costly investment, is to continue toward graduate school, where tuition typically costs $37,000 per year in public institutions. Lastly, the most often occurrence, is to return to their home country.
Regardless of the choice that the F-1 student makes, they have little to no chance of staying in the country. This is because F-1 students are typically given only one year to succeed. The time limit, coupled with the highly competitive job market and currently high unemployment rate, forces most F-1 students to leave, taking their skills, ideas, and aspirations with them.
While the new immigration reform bill promised to increase the issuing of H-1B Visa, I believe that is just a matter of appeasement, nothing more and nothing less.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), approximately 124,000 H-1B petitions have been filed for the 2014 fiscal year alone. Nothing will be solved in the long run when the current demand for H-1B Visa is already higher than the 120,000 visa cap.
In fact, the Institute of International Education (IIE) reports a 200,000 international student increase from the past 5 years, and the University of Washington saw a 44 percent increase in international student enrollment. This means one thing: many of the incoming F1-students pursuing higher education in hopes of staying and working in this land of opportunity are going to find themselves stuck at square one.
The immigration reform bill will not make much difference for international students in the long run. When a simple solution of increasing H-1B Visa output is put forth to address a growing situation of international students, lawmakers are exemplifying that they would rather send F-1 students home after their education.
Surely, if this immigration reform bill upholds the very principle of reform, the bill would tackle all channels of immigration carefully. How are we calling this an immigration reform bill when new waves of student immigrants are only given false hope and no legal pathways to stay? (end)