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How Far Does a U.S. Degree Get You to Residency? These Days, Not Very.

Starry-eyed and eager to start professional life, many graduate and undergraduate students alike arrive to the U.S. unaware that they will gain much more than a degree in their time here. On average, a bachelor’s degree takes 5.1 years to complete; a doctorate, on the other hand requires 7.3 to 8.6 years depending on the field of study. In either case, that is plenty of time to build, furnish, and settle into a life. However, come graduation, this life is far more difficult to hold onto than many students realize.

A student visa is far from a clear path to residency, no matter the prestige of your degree or your country of origin. While Optional Practical Training (OPT) opportunities exist—the chance to work in one’s field as an extension of the student visa—this only delays the greater issue. A year or two extra in a life you’ve spent five to ten building is hardly a solution, and that’s assuming the job you land is in the same place you studied.

The H-1B employee-sponsored work visa allows students to work for up to six years in the U.S., but President Trump’s April 2017 executive order pushing U.S. employers to “hire American” is making this a less and less viable option. With U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requesting further information about a growing number of applicants, wait times for the visa have increased, making getting hired that much more difficult. Indeed, a 2018 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) shows that likelihood of employers hiring international students has been trending downward for years.

And this is to say nothing of the visa lottery required to gain approval for an H-1B visa in the first place.

Because petitions for this sort of visa far outnumber the authorizations available, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services holds a lottery to randomly select which applications will move forward. In 2019 the total number of visas available was 85,000, while the total number of applicants exceeded 200,000 meaning that even once a coveted job offer was landed, the successful candidate still only had a 42% chance of gaining permission to work.

This uncertainty contributes to the already-vulnerable mental health of international students in the U.S. If the job search wasn’t stressful enough, add to that the risk that one’s hard-earned life—including friends, partnerships, and routines—might be forever lost and the desperation that being subject to a visa lottery provokes becomes clear. Many students cope by strenuously researching options while at once trying to stay on top of academic and professional obligations.

Often, these extra hours behind a screen are useless. There is simply too much misinformation out there. Nonetheless, few international students consult with an immigration attorney—claiming that to do so is either unnecessary or too expensive—and yet the cost failing to land a job and losing a life years in the making is astronomical. After all, you can’t buy back time.

Ask the Immigration Attorney

If this sounds like you and you find yourself in the position of so many other bright, talented, international professionals seeking to settle in the U.S., go ahead and ask me your most burning question for free using the form below. After all, knowing your options is the first step in making secure decisions about the future!

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