Best, Brightest, and Stuck

The H1B Visa system dealt me two hands. This gamble has got to end.

Panelists from left to right: Ann Cun, Manan Mehta, Laura Moran, Angie Gontaruk, Avinash Conda. (Photo credit: FWD.us)

In 2013, I was dealt a bad hand. My U.S. employer and I were shocked to learn I had not received my H1B and had to leave the country, facing the reality that, despite being college educated in North Carolina, I was just a number in a pool of uncertainty. In 2015, I was dealt a good hand. My U.S. employer and I were thrilled to learn I had received my H1B and could stay and continue leading the company’s productions — still just a number in a pool of the same uncertainty… which had fortunately favored me that time. How can we make sense of this system?

The fate of the hopeful H1B visa applicant is unknown at best, damaging at worst.

Earlier this week, I spoke at a panel hosted by FWD.us at the SF Chamber of Commerce alongside four Silicon Valley business leaders and immigration policy experts, where we discussed the H1B Visa and the path ahead for high-skilled immigration.

The panel coincided with the H-1B visa filing period, read: “Lottery day,” which opened Monday, April 3. Last year, U.S. employers filed a record 236,000 applications for 85,000 available visas that would allow high-skilled individuals to come here and create jobs for American workers. It was the fourth year in a row in which the H-1B visa cap was met under a week. Read, “Lottery fate: Slim.”

This short video — with an appearance by yours truly — explains how the H1B visa works:

Our visa system is half a century old and Congress has failed to update our high-skilled immigration system since 1990. This woefully outdated system harms the American economy by inhibiting its capacity for growth.

Immigration has long been our country’s greatest competitive advantage in a global economy, and the U.S. should be encouraging the best and the brightest to continue to grow their businesses and create American jobs here, rather than encouraging them to take their talents to other countries to compete against us — like I was in 2013.

So what are some proposed improvements? One idea:

  • Update the system to give U.S. College-Educated Immigrants the opportunity to stay and work in the U.S. if they so choose. In 2015, there were close to 1 million international students in the United States. These are individuals who not only contribute high sums of money to public and private universities, they also create roots, foster relationships, are part of groundbreaking graduate research, and bring diverse and innovative thinking to academia and the workforce. To prevent them from staying here is to put the U.S. at a disadvantage where highly educated individuals take their skills somewhere else.

But not every U.S. college-educated immigrant or hopeful U.S. immigrant wishes to work for an established company. The United States is the land of opportunity, and we must consider immigrants for their contributions to the innovation economy. As such:

  • Create a “Start Up” visa. Currently, to receive an H1B visa, an immigrant needs a company to sponsor them. We are at risk of losing entrepreneurs who would create jobs in the country that would employ Americans. In Silicon Valley, 43.9 percent of technology and engineering startups had at least one immigrant co-founder between 2005 and 2012. Company creation is a big driver of employment growth and innovation, and immigrants are the heartbeat of entrepreneurship.

But the above is not enough. Let’s not forget about the role that Communications can play in what we discuss and believe about the H1B Visa and Immigration system. I’m always astonished at how inconsistent the knowledge base for immigration is among my peers and the community in general, despite it being one of the most discussed topics at the moment.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is often fueled by misleading narrative. The last decade has been cruel to many workers, who in turn blame immigrants. We need to understand where most immigrants work, the role of technology innovation, and the benefits that immigrants bring to the American workforce. Here’s a comprehensive brief.

But for now, next time you sit down with your immigrant friend, coworker, or neighbor to chat about life, I encourage you to take the time to learn about their journey, ask about their process, or just congratulate them on getting through the hectic system to be able to live, work, and contribute their excellence and unique skills to this country.

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