March 3, 2023 | OPINION | By Saigopal Rangaraj
The United States Department of State lists 52 different categories of immigrant and non-immigrant visas on its website. Immigration policy is alien to most people, yet for the over 40 million people – that is about twice the population of New York City – who are impacted by it, these policies shape the relationships we can have, the jobs we can work, or even the Blocks we can take.
Immigrants find ourselves at the mercy of policymakers who pander to populist narratives, xenophobes who taunt us with slurs, and predatory businesses that exploit our insecurities to boost their profit margins, all in addition to having to deal with homesickness, culture-shock, and language barriers.
To unpack all 52 types of visas would take me the entirety of this newspaper; instead, this piece will explore the challenges that most international students at Colorado College may encounter with U.S. immigration policy and how other countries’ policies better support their international student populations.
Most full-time international students enter the US on F-1 visas, although exchange students enter on J-1 visas. These visas come with numerous hurdles, including over $500 in fees. After making it into the U.S., students on this visa must maintain their status by enrolling in a full-time course load – at CC this translates to taking at least three blocks every semester. Any deviation from this requirement can lead to consequences, such as being forced to leave the country.
Additionally, F-1 visa holders are not allowed to work off campus without prior authorization, which includes registering for an adjunct, filling out tedious forms, and writing reflections that no one reads.
International students are capped at working a maximum of 20-hours a week in their on-campus jobs, which significantly limits their ability to support themselves. While most countries have visa application fees and caps on the number of hours that international students can work, countries like the U.K., Germany, and Australia do not place restrictions on where these students can work. This one policy—allowing international students to apply for off-campus positions—significantly reduces the financial burden placed on them.
In terms of life after graduation, F-1 visa holders can apply to work in the U.S. for up to three years. Students pursuing this option, known as Optional Practical Training, must secure a job to reside in the U.S. Their stay is dependent on remaining employed, in addition to paying significant immigration fees – up to $400 per year.
Students pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees are eligible to work for up to three years after graduating, whereas non-STEM majors are only allowed to work for 12 months. Other countries provide much more generous post-graduation opportunities that are not tied to either a student’s major, or employment. Germany provides 18 months for international students to work post-graduation, while international students in the U.K. can stay for up to two years.
When considering ‘long-term’ opportunities, migrants in the U.S. can apply for an H1B visa, a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to hire foreign workers with specialized skills. These visas are allocated using a lottery, cost employers up to $6,500, and require employees to be paid a higher salary than average.
Moreover, these visas are tied to an employer, meaning that the person must remain employed by the sponsoring company to maintain their legal status. If the person becomes unemployed, they have 60 days to secure a new related job or leave the country. Any dependents, such as children or a spouse, are ineligible to work, leading to significant financial hardships for these single income households.
Beyond an H1B visa, migrants who choose to continue living in the U.S. can apply for permanent residency card, more colloquially referred to as a ‘green card’. The only caveat being that, depending on the applicant’s country of origin, there are extremely long wait times – up to 150 years for Indian nationals.
If you are confused or shocked after reading this… good! This article only scratches the surface of the burdens that international students and immigrants (excluding refugees and undocumented immigrants) endure to study, work, and live in the U.S. Open immigration policies are far from the solution; however, there are many policies that have been implemented elsewhere or are currently under consideration that make being an immigrant in the U.S. less awful.
Policies such as extending grace periods for unemployment, lowering visa application fees, and reducing citizenship caps on permanent residency cards will all go a long way in making immigrants’ experiences less anxiety inducing while also stimulating economic activity.
NOTE: If you are an international student, please consult with the International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) team before deciding to work or take time off. This article is not intended to be a guide for F-1 visa holders. Additionally, the author of this piece is currently not accepting ‘green card’ marriage proposals, although one of your other international peers may be open to the idea.