Tales of an F-1 Visa Student in the United States
Spoiler alert: she did not find a green card husband.
This week, my social journalism colleagues and I were asked to submit a community pitch, if you will. The pitch would explain what community we would be serving throughout the year and why.
The community I pitched was that of international students in NYC. I have to admit, the reason I picked this community was a little selfish. I knew I would also (if all goes well) benefit from whatever service I provided throughout the year. And that’s because, like a few others in the class of 2017, I picked a community I’m a part of, a community I deeply want to help.
I usually have to tell folks that I’m international. That’s because I have an American accent (mostly) and dress in modern, #basic clothing. Ever since my family put me in an American school at the age of three, I started to develop a kind of cross-cultural frustration. The American cultural side of me keeps telling me one thing while my Moroccan side tells me another.
In July 2016, however, this frustration came to an all time high. I was headed back home to Morocco after 5 years in my adopted home, the U.S, because my OPT expired. OPT stands for optional practical training — essentially a year of “training” or work in your field of study. AKA the extent of America’s help towards international students. AKA “we tried!”-USA.
If you’re an international student and you want to stay in the U.S. post grad, you need to find a way to do so before your OPT expires, if you even managed to snag a job where they would hire an international student grad, that is. Essentially, your options are either getting married or trying to get an H-1B temporary work visa, a Hunger Games-like endeavor.
To be honest, finding a partner, falling in love and proposing to them is, arguably, a lot easier than getting an H-1B. Don’t believe me? Here’s an excerpt of a description of the H-1B selection process courtesy of USCIS, which receives more than 200,000 applications a year:
“USCIS will use a computer-generated process, also known as the lottery, to randomly select the petitions needed to meet the caps of 65,000 visas for the general category and 20,000 for the advanced degree exemption.
USCIS will first randomly select petitions for the advanced degree exemption. All unselected advanced degree petitions will become part of the random selection process for the 65,000 general cap. The agency will reject and return filing fees for all unselected cap-subject petitions that are not duplicate filings.”
I rest my case.
Below is live footage of me after finding out about the H-1B lottery system:
And, well, getting an H-1B is clearly just as hard as it sounds. I should know, I was not selected in last year’s lottery. “The fact that you even got to a point where a company was willing to sponsor you…that alone is amazing,” one fellow international friend said. “You got to work at Snapchat for a whole year. That’s going to look so good on your resume,” another added. I didn’t know whether to feel proud or depressed. “Thanks, Uncle Sam! You’re welcome for the $250K! Keep in touch!”
…So I moved back home in July, leaving my job, my apartment, my friends. I moved back in with my parents and essentially wept for two months. Eventually, however, things started to look up. I started working, the waiters at the Australian coffee shop I went to learned my name and I got into the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism! My program would start in January 2017.
Boarding the plane in Casablanca, I was full of joy and hope. But as soon as I landed in New York, I immediately felt a pit in my stomach about eventually not being able to stay. It’s like getting into a relationship you know is probably going to end. You’re enjoying your time while you’re in it, but there’s a little voice in the back of your head that keeps saying, “you know it’s going to end! They don’t want you!”
“It’s like getting into a relationship you know is probably going to end. You’re enjoying your time while you’re in it, but there’s a little voice in the back of your head that keeps saying, “you know it’s going to end! They don’t want you!”
When I was on my flight back home in July, that’s exactly how I’d felt. Like I’d been randomly dumped by a country I had loved so much. I truly felt patriotic to the U.S. in a way not many understood or validated.
Case in point:
All I’m saying is this: international students, who are educated, worldly individuals, who have jobs at companies that want to sponsor them, who have communities built over years of living and studying in the U.S, at a cost unparalleled anywhere in the world, who want to stay in the country post grad—these individuals should be given a chance.
Scratch that. They should actually be welcomed with open arms and encouraged to live and work in the U.S. as intelligent, skilled members of their communities. But they’re not. Dubbed “non-resident aliens” in almost all of their paperwork, international students are treated as just that: aliens.
Things shouldn’t be this hard.
“Dubbed ‘non-resident aliens’ in almost all of their paperwork, international students are treated as just that: aliens.”
Thanks for reading! Through my time at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, I plan on learning from and serving international students in New York City. If you’re interested in following my progress online, follow me here on Medium (I’ll be posting a more detailed version of my story in the coming weeks) and like my community’s Facebook page.