American Dream Becomes A Nightmare For Many Immigrant Graduates.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Millions of overseas students come to study in the USA, but when they graduate not all can stay.
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Some students from overseas come to the United States and spend $100,000 getting a science degree in the United States and then find that they can’t stay and work in the US to pay back student loans simply because the number of visas for foreign graduates issued each year is limited and has become like a lottery, and then there is also the matter of ‘country caps’.

Many people have heard of the H-1B visa: it’s the lightning rod for political football in the U.S., caught in a gridlock for more than two decades now.

The last significant revision to the H-1B happened in 2004 when the Bush administration allocated 85,000 H-1B visas each year. While 65,000 were for those with a bachelor’s degree, 20,000 were set aside for those with a master’s degree or a higher one. Since 2011, the cap of 85,000 has been reached every year.

But the struggles don’t end at winning this lottery.

“I came to the U.S. in 2001,” says Saurav Mitra, a mechanical engineer employed at an electronics company. “I graduated from one of the top schools in Mechanical Engineering in 2008 and got the H-1B. Since then, I’ve been stuck in the EB-2 retrogression, with no hope of getting a green card even if I wait till 2030.

“That makes it close to 30 years in this country, caught in limbo, with promotions and job changes taking place at a much slower pace. All of my colleagues, including from China, who graduated much later than me, already have their green cards.”

Due to ‘country caps’ introduced in 1990, a country can get only 7% of the 140,000 green cards issued every year. This has unfairly affected immigrants from China and India, the top two countries sending students to the US.

“I arrived in the US on an F-1 visa in 2019,” says Shreya Telang, a Bioengineer based in California. “Sadly, COVID-19 struck when I was in my second semester, and the second wave took my father’s life in March 2021. Borders were closed and my EAD [Employment Authorization Document] card hadn’t arrived, so I couldn’t say goodbye to him. It took a whole year before I could hug my grieving mother. My story mirrors the struggles of many immigrants…”

The truth is, it shouldn’t be this hard for high-skilled immigrants in America.

About one in four workers in STEM fields are immigrants. “Despite making up just 14% of the population, immigrants are responsible for 30% of U.S. patents and 38% of U.S. Nobel Prizes in science,” write Alec Stapp and Jeremy Neufeld of the Institute For Progress, a Washington-based think tank.

“A team of Stanford economists recently estimated that nearly three-quarters of all U.S. innovation since 1976 can be attributed to high-skilled immigration,” the authors add. The contribution is not limited to science either. A recent analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy found that over half of unicorn startups were launched by immigrants.

Yet, America continues to lag.

The last time the country came close to passing comprehensive immigration reforms was in 2013. Countless bills have been introduced in Congress, most of them being ‘dead on arrival’. Most recent is the ‘Border Act’ introduced this year. While its fate is most likely already sealed, one can still hope.

“I’ve spent 17 years in this country now,” says Preeti Suryakumar, an occupational therapist who moved to the U.S. in 2007. “Due to so-called cost management decisions made by my employers and the backlog for Indian nationals, I still don’t have my green card. I am burnt out, I get paid hourly, and I don’t get holidays. Sadly, I don’t have much job potential in India either. So it feels like I’m stuck here… Sometimes I wonder, did I make the right choice coming to America?”

But this hasn’t affected the numbers yet. In the 2022-23 academic year, there were 1,057,188 international students in the U.S. Of that, India, with 268,923 students – a 35% increase year-over-year – accounted for the second highest number of pupils after China. Surprisingly, mass layoffs and outdated immigration policies haven’t had an impact on new incoming students, yet.

So, should you come to America? No one person can decide that. It is a deeply personal question that needs to be addressed based on facts. The facts are: America is a high-risk, high-reward country. One could come here and be incredibly successful, or they could put themselves in debt and golden handcuffs. The question to ask is: are you willing to take that bet on yourself?

Ultimately, while international students should continue to ask for America (and other countries) to do their best to update laws, they shouldn’t rely on that. At least, not in the short term.

Source: NDTV.
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