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Int’l students at risk if H-1B salary threshold raised

A new report from the National Foundation for American Policy think tank has underlined stakeholders’ concerns that retaining international graduates could prove more challenging for the US if a reform of the H-1B visa system which favours the top applicants goes ahead.

Donald Trump unveiled his Buy American, Hire American executive order in April this year, which educators have warned could be damaging to the US's attractiveness as a study destination. Photo: flickr/Gage Skidmore.

There were 199,000 initial applications for H-1B visas, an excess of 114,000

New entrants to the labour market, including international students, “cannot demand the highest salaries”, the NFAP notes in its H-1B visas by the numbers report.

“That means an effort to change the system to one where only those with the highest salaries receive H-1B petitions could prevent international students from staying in the United States after graduation,” it says. “Which may be what at least some Trump administration officials hope to accomplish.”

“Students are under the impression that there will be very limited post-study-opportunities in US for them”

Announcing the ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order in April, which proposed an overhaul of the H-1B system, President Donald Trump said visas would be allocated to “most-skilled and highest-paid applicants” to ensure Americans don’t lose out on jobs.

At the time, educators expressed their concern that the proposed reforms may damage the attractiveness of the US as a study destination.

However, they have also said that reform of the current allocation system is needed.

Each year, 85,000 H-1B visas are allocated through a lottery, with 20,000 of these reserved for graduates of master’s degrees or higher.

For FY18 – the lottery was held in April this year – around 43% of H-1B petitions were granted visas. There were 199,000 initial applications for H-1B visas, an excess of 114,000 over the 85,000 quota, the NFAP report says.

This represents a decrease from 236,000 applications the year before, as more companies have chosen to rely less on visas, and industry trends have steered towards digital services, the report notes.

The dip will have little impact on how competitive the process is for international students, given the 20,000 allocation for international gradates, noted Ravi Lochan Singh, managing director at education agency Global Reach.

However, he cautioned: “The sentiment for the US as a destination is certainly affected due to the noise that has been emanating from the top of the US political system. Students are under the impression that there will be very limited post-study-opportunities in the US for them.”

Political rhetoric and tightening immigration policies may also have an impact on employers, noted Rahul Choudaha, CEO of US-based research and consulting firm DrEducation.

“Given the direction of immigration policies, employers will be concerned about sponsoring H-1B visa for international students,” he said.

“The policy reform needed is to expand the 20,000 visas available for students with advanced degrees. However, that is unlikely in this environment.”

The ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order has directed government agencies and departments to analyse the problems in the H-1B visa system which negatively impact American workers, and review policies in favour of hiring American workers over foreign workers.

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