H-1B visas bring international students one step closer to the American Dream

By Celine Djohan
Northwest Asian Weekly

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In hopes of landing a permanent position at a local technology manufacturing company, one of William Takdir Jaya’s many responsibilities is to commute to work at 6 a.m.

The 23-year-old, a fresh graduate from the University of Washington’s Foster Business School, said he arrives early because he needs to go “above and beyond” to impress an employer who holds the golden ticket to his future: an H-1B visa.

With graduation just around the corner, international residents on student visas are currently deciding whether to apply for Optional Practical Training provided by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

This program allows international students to extend their stay in the United States for three months after graduation as they look for employment. Students who are hired are allowed to stay and work while waiting for extensions on their visas.

In other words, they want a permanent job.

But there is a catch. There is a cap of 65,000 applicants who can apply, and some companies are not willing to renew international students’ visas because it is costly. Corporations pay an initial fee of $2,000 to sponsor one student.

“After working for three months in Terex Co., I went to my manager to ask for an extension for my visa, as I plan on working there permanently,” said Jaya. “However, when I started working, I had to put in way more effort than the locals to prove to my managers that I am worth it.”

With rising unemployment rates, it is difficult for locals to find jobs, let alone international students.

“Who wouldn’t want to live in America and get a taste of the American Dream? That’s the reason why I came here to finish my degree,” said Guillermo Ochovo, 24, who graduated from UW’s College of Engineering in 2013. “I did take engineering in college though, and barely slept in the four years I was at the UW.”

According to an article written on Computerworld, the OPT program initially allowed only students in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math — to apply. In 2012, President Barack Obama expanded the number of eligible fields of study by about 90, giving more chances for foreign students to stay in the United States.

The program was criticized for taking jobs from American citizens. Jaya disagreed.

“I don’t think we are taking jobs from the locals,” said Jaya. “For instance, the UW College of Computer Science and Engineering only admits 30 to 35 students per year. A company like Amazon definitely hires more than 35 students in a year.”

When looking for a company to work for, Jaya suggests applying at international companies, which have good health plans and incentives, and are more likely to renew visas.

UW’s Assistant Director and International Student adviser Machelle Allman said that it is hard for a foreign student to succeed in the United States, primarily because the government expects students to head back home after completing their education.

“Students need to plan ahead,” said Allman. “Be sure to make minimum mistakes in the whole process to avoid complications, or even deportation if they are denied.” (end)

Celine Djohan can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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