Work Visas Confine International Students in U.S. Job Market

Like many other Harvard seniors, Canadian student Sisi Pan ’11 plans to enter the U.S. workforce after graduation this spring.

After considering going back to her home country, Pan says she has ultimately decided to stay in the U.S. because of the better job opportunities in the States.

“Obviously, the Boston, New York, Philadelphia area is just rife with biotech start-up and pharmaceutical companies, and therefore rife with healthcare consulting companies,” says Pan, who will be working for Massachusetts-based healthcare consulting firm Putnam Associates. “That’s not really an opportunity I found too readily available in Canada.”

Yet a larger job pool does not necessarily translate into an easier job search. As an international student, Pan needed to find a company that not only appreciated her talent, but also was willing to sponsor H-1B visas, a temporary work permit for those with non-immigrant status.

“There were definitely a few firms that I was planning to pursue, but they specifically said they don’t sponsor visas,” Pan says.

In fact, one “big firm” Pan applied to, the name of which she prefers not to reveal, first accepted her application, but then declined it after they found out that she needed a H-1B visa.

According to the Harvard International Office, international students can be at a disadvantage during the job search process because many employers are reluctant to sponsor visas for international students—a hurdle which many of the 695 international students at Harvard may have to face if they choose to pursue employment in the U.S.

THE COST OF H-1B

A. Cansu Aydede ’11 is lucky to be among those international students who have secured H-1B visa sponsorship. She will be working next year at Bridgewater Associates, a large investment firm which manages a $75 billion global investment fund. But Aydede acknowledges that visa sponsorship is frequently a headache for international students.

Students on F-1 student visas can remain in the U.S. for a 12-month period—known as Optional Practical Training—without acquiring a work visa.

Yet the Optional Practical Training period does not curb the difficulty of obtaining H-1B visas, according to Aydede. Only the large and resourceful firms can afford to sponsor H-1B, as the process is both time consuming and costly.

“Nobody hires you for [just 12] months, unless [the companies] are big enough, [or] they know that you are staying with them and are worth all the trouble of them going through the process [of getting the visa],” Aydede says.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website, companies petitioning for H-1B must file a series of documents and pay a fee ranging from $825 to nearly $4,000.

In addition, the U.S. government currently caps the number of H-1B petitions at 65,000 per fiscal year. As of Jan. 26, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it has already received the maximum number of petitions and will no longer accept H-1B applications until next year.

“Not all firms that are willing to take on American students are willing to sponsor the H-1B, because they don’t have the resources,” says Anusha Tomar ’11, who will be working with McKinsey & Company. Although Tomar is sponsored by McKinsey, she says some of her international friends have encountered problems obtaining H-1B visa sponsorship.

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