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Jobs for F-1 visa STEM students are harder to find

We know there is a labor shortage, especially among STEM workers. We know hundreds of thousands of students come to the U.S. every year to study under F-1 visas. Common sense would dictate that these students would have no problem finding a job in the U.S. if they wanted to stay. So why are F-1 visa students having so much trouble getting jobs after graduation?


The numbers game

STEM students with F-1 visas should have the option of staying after graduation to participate in “optional practical training” for up to three years. To qualify, they must have a job waiting for them after graduation. Many of these graduates apply for an H1-B visa, which would allow them to stay and work in the U.S. past the three years. Unfortunately, their chances are low. Nearly 400,000 students received an F-1 visa last year. The government does not have an official cap on those visas. They do have a cap on H1-B visas, however. Only 85,000 H1-B visas are issued each year.

The H1-B visas are given out in a lottery system. Unfortunately, global outsourcing firms have learned to rig that system by flooding the lottery with thousands of applications, leaving the small businesses and F-1 visa holders that the law was intended for to fight over the leftover spots. F-1 visa holders who stay the three years have the advantage of re-applying each year.

Changing immigration policy

Shortly after taking office, President Trump signed an executive order, which had several goals. He wanted to promote American workers for the STEM jobs available. DHS states that their goal under the executive order is two-fold: reduce the amount of fraud and abuse in the H1-B system and reform the system to reward more highly skilled, highly educated applicants.

DHS has increased penalties for fraud or over-staying visas. They have also limited the types of positions H1-B visa applicants can apply for, reducing the number of entry-level jobs available. One outcome of the new policy may be to crack-down on the global outsourcing firms, given the new preferences for higher skilled workers.

Given the low unemployment rate for STEM jobs and the labor shortage, more U.S. companies, universities, and international students are complaining about the policy changes. Overall, these groups predict that an inadequate system is only going to become more problematic for F-1 visa holders hoping to stay in the U.S.

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