NEW YORK – The Pew Research Center determined in a new study that nearly 364,000 foreign students with F-1 visas were newly enrolled at a U.S. college or university in 2016, double the number at the outset of the Great Recession, in 2008. These students spent an estimated $15.5 billion compared with $5.5 billion eight years ago. However, what the study doesn’t go into, analyze, is how many of these students would be able to work in the United States, carve out a new life.
If new rules and regulations in the pipeline – either by way of Trump administration decisions or action in Congress come through – one thing’s clear: only a few of these foreign graduates will actually qualify to get an H-1B visa, to work in the US. And those who do get an H-1B visa, and then get married to a non-citizen, will do so knowing that their spouse will, on an H-4 visa, will not be legally eligible to work for pay.
In 2016, almost half (49%) of foreign students pursued graduate-level degrees, such as a master’s (41%) or a doctorate (8%). Other foreign students enrolled in colleges and universities pursued bachelor’s (38%) and associate (13%) degrees. Students from China, India and South Korea accounted for more than half (54%) of all new foreign students pursuing higher education degrees in the U.S. in 2016. About 108,000 new students were from China, accounting for 30% of the total. About 66,000 came from India (18% of the total), followed by South Korea with about 21,000 foreign students (6% of the total).
But dark clouds loom in the horizon for these graduate students, many of whom aspire to work and stay in the US. Fortune reported last week that the House Judiciary Committee just took a step toward toughening the rules for H1-B visas.
Introduced in January by Republican California Rep. Darrell Issa, the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act seeks to make it more difficult for “H-1B dependent” companies to obtain work permits.
Last week, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee, which is just the first of many steps to becoming law. Next, the bill will be voted upon by the House and will then be sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and finally to the full upper chamber if it passes in committee.
The bill, among other huge amendments to existing rules, calls for a minimum salary raise for H-1B holders from $60,000 to $90,000. Companies would be required to send reports to the Department of Labor about efforts to recruit American workers, and H-1B dependent employers could be subject to five random investigations annually by the Department of Labor. Finally, the bill would prohibit H-1B dependent employers from replacing American workers with H-1B employees. Needless to say, the hardest hit would be IT professionals from India.
Issa’s bill is “the first substantial effort to change the program through legislation” by the Trump administration, notes the San Francisco Chronicle.
The important question is: how many foreign graduates or skilled workers globally will be eligible for H-1B visa next year, in the face of extensive hurdles being posed by the Department of Homeland Security?
Not many, given the new benchmark for eligibility. Perhaps, after years, it’s likely that the full quota of 85,000 H-1B visas may not be fully used next year.
On November 23, The New York Times ran a highly revealing first-person piece headlined ‘Is Anyone Good Enough for an H-1B Visa?’ written by Frida Yu, a Chinese lawyer and entrepreneur, who got an H-1B visa earlier this year after finishing an MBA from Stanford, to found a startup in Silicon Valley. However, the visa has since then been denied.
Yu recounted that after earning law degrees in China and at Oxford, after having worked in Hong Kong as a lawyer at a top international firm, after coming to United States three years ago for an M.B.A. and graduating and joining a start-up, he was given just 60 days to leave the country. He has 17 days left, as of writing the piece.
At the end of July, Yu received the “dreaded Request for Further Evidence from immigration authorities”.
“I provided the extra information that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services asked for. In September, I got another request. I complied again. Finally, on Oct. 11, half a year after my celebration, I learned I had been denied a visa,” Yu wrote.
“While it’s unclear exactly what percentage of petitions have been approved so far in 2017, requests for evidence like the ones I received have increased by 44 percent compared with last year, according to immigration statistics, strongly suggesting that more people are being denied than before Mr. Trump took office,” Yu wrote.
“Many of my fellow international students are in situations similar to mine. Some had job offers from companies like Google, Apple and PwC when they learned that their applications had been denied or did not even make it into the lottery. For those whose employers have only United States offices, losing the lottery meant losing jobs and going home, with no real way to use the skills they were on the verge of contributing to the American economy,” Yu wrote.
“My two requests for evidence asked me to prove my job was a “specialty occupation” — that is, work that only someone with a bachelor’s degree or higher can do. My work involves artificial intelligence and big data, and my letters of support came from an authority in my industry and veteran start-up investor, and a Nobel Prize winner. But it wasn’t enough to convince the government that my job requires advanced skills,” Yu wrote.
Yu ends by writing: “As I make plans to go back to China, I find myself wondering: If I am not qualified to stay in the United States, then who is?”
It’s not just H-1B visa aspirants. There’s also bad news for H-4 visa holders with an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Breitbart reported this week that officials at the Department of Homeland “have drafted plans to end former President Barack Obama’s policy of awarding an extra work-visa to many H-1B guest workers.”
The Obama policy has delivered at least 78,000 extra H-4 work-permits to the spouses of foreign H-1B guest workers. Many of the spouses are white-collar graduates who compete for the jobs also sought by young American graduates.
A regulation to end the H-4 giveaway is “on the table” an agency official told Breitbart News. If published in the federal register, it will be enforced after 60 days but likely will be tangled up in business-funded lawsuits, the report said.
The move would impact less than 10 percent of the roughly 1 million resident white-collar guest-workers in the US. However, it’s going to create chaos in the finances of tens of thousands of families who depend on two salaries to run a household.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)