In November 2016, shortly after the presidential election, students from six U.S. universities appeared in a promotional video titled “You Are Welcome Here.” Their message intended to reassure the one million international students already in the country—and the ones who might be rethinking their plans—that they were still valued.
Today, more than 300 schools participate in the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign. But as students return to campus for the fall semester, shifting immigration policies have put that message in doubt.
Some of those policy changes have affected the F-1 visa, which allows international students to stay after graduation to pursue additional training. Students who participate in a federally designated university program in STEM can remain for up to three years, for what’s officially known as “optional practical training.” In order to qualify, they have to line up jobs before graduating, then submit training plans for approval by their schools.
Later, those scientists and software developers may either apply for an H-1B visa or return to their home countries with substantial work experience. For those who hope to secure an H-1B visa, which allows foreign-born people with specialized skills to work in the United States, the odds are low. There are only 85,000 of the visas available each year. Big outsourcing companies have learned to game the system, and the 20,000 slots set aside for international students who earn a master’s degree in the U.S. fill up quickly. Because people can reapply each year, those with an F-1 visa who remain for their STEM training essentially get more chances to win the H-1B lottery.