US Citizen, Immigration Services reaches H-1B visa cap in less than week

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Valerie Tan/Staff

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Friday that it had reached the H-1B visa cap of 65,000 for fiscal year 2018 less than a week after applications opened April 3.

According to the USCIS website, the H-1B visa allows employers in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers with specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in their areas of expertise. Ivor Emmanuel, director of Berkeley International Office, said obtaining the H-1B is one of many obstacles international students face when planning out their careers, in addition to finding employers willing to sponsor their H-1B petitions and finding jobs that match their skill sets.

International students often petition for the H-1B during their Optional Practical Training, or OPT, a period allotted by student visas in which students can stay in the United States to gain work experience, according to Emmanuel.

Through a lottery system, Congress can issue up to 65,000 H-1B visas and an additional 20,000 visas to foreigners who hold a master’s degree or higher level of education every year, according to the website. Additionally, institutions of higher education, government research and nonprofit research can also petition for workers to receive visas that are not included in the capped count.

In 2016, the number of visa petitions filed was three times more than the congressionally mandated quota, according to CNN Money.

“The 65,000 is not anywhere near enough to meet the demand,” Emmanuel said. “Even the 20,000 — the master’s cap — is also oversubscribed within a couple of days.”

This year, the USCIS temporarily halted the expedited process, called premium processing, which allows petitioners and applicants to find out their statuses within 15 calendar days for a fee of $1,225, according to TIME. Without the option of premium processing, all applicants must wait months to find out their statuses.

Former ASUC senator and campus alumnus Tom Seung Kun Lee, who is awaiting results for his H-1B visa application, said the visa is an investment for employers because a company can hire and train employees if it petitions for the employees, but it must deal with the prospect of losing them if they don’t receive the H-1B.

“It really hinders and restricts where (you) can apply for jobs, and once you get it, you can’t plan out your career trajectory because you can end up not being in the country in a year,” Lee said.

Jane Seung, a campus senior and international student, said she remembers going through internship websites and filtering out all the companies that did not offer sponsorships, even if she believed the job descriptions fit well to her skill sets and interests.

Seung said she and other international students also struggle with the prospect of being deported. She added that when she took on an internship in Korea — where she was born — she learned professional skills but had trouble adjusting to the culture.

“Because I spent so much time out of the country, I can’t really imagine going back to Korea and working there right at this moment because I’ve made connections here,” Seung said.

Lee expressed a similar sentiment, saying he too feels that he has been assimilated into the American lifestyle, but he added that there are always other options for international students.

“There are ups and down in working in the states and working abroad. If you’re trying hard but you don’t get it, don’t be depressed,” Lee said. “If you can show your value, you will find a way. Think (realistically) — if you think it’s not going to work out, find plan B and plan C.”

Contact Christine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinejlee17.