Serra Kazanc came to study at Penn in 2009, earned an internship at Jefferies — a global financial firm — the summer after her junior year and was offered full time employment at the company after graduating from Wharton in 2013. That year, Kazanc, who concentrated in finance and real estate, started working at Jefferies in New York City. She was happy with her job and so was her employer. The Wharton graduate was leasing an apartment and was one of the many Penn students that migrate to New York City upon graduation.
But in May 2014, the United States government notified Kazanc that she no longer had permission to work in the country and forced her to move out of the United States, the place she had come to call home for the past five years.
Kazanc is originally from Turkey and, like most international students that come to Penn, she had to deal with the possibility of being deported from the United States if she didn’t obtain an H-1B visa after 12 months of working in the country.
The problem with obtaining H-1B visas
H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows employers to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations for up to six years.
Obtaining an H-1B visa, which is allocated through a lottery system, has become increasingly hard in the past few years. The Department of Homeland Security currently caps the amount of H-1B visas granted at 65,000 per fiscal year, with an additional 20,000 reserved for applicants with advanced degrees. Last year, DHS received an overwhelming 233,000 H-1B petitions in as little as a week; only a little over one-third of petitioners received one of the sought-after visas.
“I had been living in the U.S. for five years and I think I deserved the right to stay,” Kazanc said, who moved to London to work at her company’s international branch there. “The cap was about 60,000 people and the applications [numbered] 180,000 [in my] year. It is totally not based on merit and totally based on luck, which is not the right way to do things.”
Before even thinking about H-
While the U.S.’s current policy makes it more accessible for foreigners to obtain an F1 visa to study in the United States, the current cap level and competition for H-1B visas makes it difficult for graduates to stay and work in the country after graduation.
Daniel Bäume, a 2013 College graduate from Germany, also went through an ordeal similar to Kazanc’s. After graduating from Penn, Bäume went on to work for AIG in New York City and expected to do so for a couple of years. His luck changed when he realized that H-1B visas were becoming extremely competitive.
“I saw myself staying [in the U.S.] for a couple of years, but then six months into my job I realized ‘Oh sh*t, there is actually this H-1B thing’, which hadn’t been causing issues to people for years,” Bäume said. “Suddenly, starting in 2013, a lot of people started getting rejected through the lottery.”
Bäume wasn’t accepted for an H-1B visa, but considers himself lucky because his company was able to relocate him to their London offices. Unlike Kazanc’s company, Bäume’s employer paid for all his relocation costs.
“In my experience I was quite
The competitiveness of the H-1B visa process — in which a company applies on behalf of the employee — affects a significant amount of Penn students that wish to work in the United States after graduation. According to Penn Admissions' website, 12 percent of undergraduate students currently enrolled in the university are from abroad. In 2014, three-fourths of graduating international seniors across all schools reported that they would stay to work in the United States, according to Career Services. Penn, however, does not keep track of how many of their graduates eventually apply for H-1B visas, as the process is conducted after graduation and by the graduate’s employer.
In fact, H-1B visas have become so difficult to obtain that many companies that recruit on Penn’s campus refrain from hiring students that may potentially need a sponsor to apply for an H-1B visa in the future.
“The biggest issue I hear
“Different industries tend to
Increased competitiveness for H-1B visas wasn’t always the norm. Both Hewitt and Jeremy Spohr, an advisor at Penn’s International Student and Scholar Services, noted that the state of the economy significantly affects the amount of companies applying for H-1B visas. During the most recent economic recession, employers didn’t demand as many H-1B visas.
“In 2009-2011 the lottery
Historical figures from DHS reports show that, while from 2014-16 H-1B visas hit the 65,000 cap within five to seven days after the filing period opened, it took more than six months for H-1B visas to reach the same cap from 2010 to 2012.
“One of the worse things
Fixing the nationwide problem
Increasing the yearly cap on the amount of H-1B visas the U.S. grants has fallen at an impasse in Congress, where Republicans and Democrats alike have been unable to pass any serious immigration reform.
The closest the issue with H-1B visas came to be addressed was in 2013 when a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration
The bill — which proposed
One of the issues with passing any sort of immigration reform through Congress is the parties’ differing views on how reform should take place.
“Republicans in Congress are
“They’ll be more sympathetic
Andresen specified that Congress’s hyper-polarization and general opposition from organized labor groups have made any progress on adjusting H-1B visas virtually impossible. He reiterated Penn’s support for comprehensive immigration reform, but conceded that the University would potentially back an individual bill that solely addressed H-1B visas.
One such bill was introduced on Jan. 13, 2015 by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and three others. The bill — also called the I-Squared Act — would increase the number of
“[The bill] would raise the quota for H1B visas and address a lot of these issues, but it is not going anywhere,” Andresen said. “The problem is that Republicans in Congress have essentially said that they’re not going to move any immigration legislation because they disagree strongly with the executive actions that President Obama took on DACA and some of the other positions he has taken.”
However, a small triumph came on March 11. The U.S. government published a rule saying that international
Not only does it mean that STEM students will have more years of permitted work in the United States, but more years to apply and succeed at obtaining an H-1B visa.
“I think its a great
Beating the system
The low chances of obtaining an H-1B visa and Congress’s inability to act has incited at least one Penn student to approach the system ingeniously. An international 2015 Wharton graduate — who asked not to be named — managed to apply and obtain an H-1B visa while she was still a senior at Penn.
As a senior, her future employer — an international financial firm in New York City — asked her to obtain a letter from Wharton’s undergraduate advising office certifying that she was on track to obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Her employer used this letter as a substitute for an official bachelors degree in her H-1B application. A few months later, the Wharton graduate was notified that she had obtained an H-1B visa.
Generally, only students who have graduated can apply for these visas.
Both ISSS and Career Services noted that they were unfamiliar with this approach as it largely depends on your school’s decision to write such a letter and your future employer’s willingness to accept it as a substitute to a degree.
“The minimum requirement for
Adjusting to a new life
While much of the backlash against increasing the cap for H-1B visas comes from detractors who state that foreigners are taking American jobs, Kazanc disagreed. She said the United States has a serious white-collar gap and that she helped to fill in that gap when working in New York.
“I didn’t think I was stealing an American’s job. When you apply for a company they accept you based on merit,” she said. “Americans had as much of an opportunity as I did. My employer thought I was more competitive than an American [applicant]. That is why they chose me.”
She added, “I don’t feel guilty about it."
While both Kazanc and Bäume have adjusted to their news lives in London, they both criticized the U.S.’s apparently contradictory policy when it comes to attracting foreign students for higher education while rejecting their ability to work afterwards.
“It was disappointing at the
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