Ready for the ‘ American Dream’? Get your H1B first

“This is what the things can teach us: to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness. Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

Imagine, you were given the chance to work with mission-driven, passionate millennials, at a company hosting one of the most visited websites in the world, who already started developing the project that will save the planet or at least a part of it at 22. Even their small talk feels like you seriously need to lock yourself into a library with books you could approximately read in 200 years to be able to talk to them fluently. Still, you’re happy because you’re a part of this whole thing.

That’s how my first-real job felt like; I was a foreigner with broken English, educated at one of the most prestigious law schools in this country, and, interned at two prominent tech policy organizations. Oh, no need to mention, my country likes blocking the websites an American visit almost every day, sometimes a hundred times a day, whenever it feels like. Still, this people opened their arms, or their open-office with low ceilings which one of my start-up lawyer friends found quite depressing, to welcome me. At 24, you feel kind of important… no need to lie, you feel pretty darn important when these snowflakes are interested in you. When I received the job offer, I was already back in my home country, leaving all my ‘American Dreams’ behind settled for a job with a local law firm specializing in tech. But just one phone call was enough for me to get on the next, or the sixth next flight, to move back to the United States.

Well, this is not going to be one of those stories you see on LinkedIn on my glorious life of following my dream and finding my true purpose when I was on the verge of giving up all. That’s what I thought would happen after leaving ‘everything’ behind and moving back. But there is this little thing called H1B visa; if you’re not familiar with that, most foreign workers need this visa to work in the US. Yes, even if you studied here; and yes, even if you studied at Harvard. (sorry prestige, even your capacity cannot defy the bitter gravity of the H1B process.) This visa can only be petitioned in early April by an employer, and there is a lottery (excluding cap-exempt petitions). So, there is a high chance of losing the lottery, left behind your hands empty, only with your offer letter from your precious company that ‘luckily’ agreed to sponsor you. Hmm… because almost nobody wants to…

After working for 6 months at my first job, I let them know that I’d like to stay. They were eager to support me and did their best, only to find out they cannot sponsor me for any visas in this country. Unlike my small company, every year, big companies sponsor thousands of engineers and tech workers from not-so-well represented countries. And rumor has it, this is not because US engineers are not as smart as their counterparts, but the companies do not need to pay the high US market rates to these people who are already paid much more than their home country rates. Though I was shocked and deeply disturbed ethic-wise, I decided to move on.

It has been a couple of months since I left my last position, and I’ve been applying to a variety of places, including big and small companies. My experiences differ, but the same in essence. I was rejected by online applications right after filling them because I said ‘yes’ to the question “Will you require a sponsorship now or in the future?” So, the hiring manager would never get to see my resume, because an algorithm already decided not to pass my application to the next round. There have been several times in the middle of an interview, “Wait, do we need to sponsor you? Why would we? I think you should be irreplaceable for us to follow that route.” I am like, “Really? Do you have the same threshold for your American candidates?” (insert, rolling eyes emoji here.) And the funniest part was when I finally gave up on H1B and started applying to contractor jobs, only to find out they cannot hire someone from my country of origin due to legal threats my country posing to the US tech companies. I literally had a panic attack that night.

Don’t tell me to stop being a spoiled brat and go back to my home country. Because it cannot be that bad, right? Honestly, you’re right, it is not that bad. But I had a dream. I don’t mean to sound like MLK Jr., but the man was wise in his words. Growing up in a politically oppressed environment, I was fascinated by the amount of criticism the President or a government official needs to tolerate in the US. Come on, I published a book at 16, and my high school decided to give me a suspension for a few days because I included a chapter where teens were holding hands. Can you believe that? That does not happen in real life, right? Oh, silly me. Bottom line, I wanted to work in a place where I could just be me and help other people to be themselves, and that usually happens through expressing yourself by just speaking, writing stuff online and offline, attending protests, gathering with like-minded people, and publishing a teenage fiction where a small romance can bloom. That was just not possible in my home country at that time, and I didn’t know that you, you lucky American people had this little gem called the First Amendment. So, that was the reason John Oliver could say anything about the current president and get away with it, or Hasan Minhaj could give a speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and say something like “The news coming out of the White House is so stressful, I’ve been watching ‘House of Cards’ just to relax.”, when Donald Trump was literally a few blocks away from him, or hmm… in Pennsylvania. Try a Middle Eastern politician, Hasan…

But why did I internalize this whole free expression thing? Because that’s my job, the reason I came to this country to study law and public policy. Not because I saw the Times Square on a lousy mainstream movie, was taken by its charm, and decided to pursue my ‘American Dream’. (Give me my beloved Brooklyn Heights or overly hippie Greenwich Village, really.) What I thought was I could finally express my opinions without the fear of interference from a government or an online platform (You gotta do what you gotta do in a country where censorship is like eating breakfast every morning). But lately, I feel this vibe coming over me from the lands of the United States that says “Eat up your H1B dreams, delete the letters H and B from your dictionary, and shove off!”

I know, it is just not me. I’m sure many of you frustrated H1B seekers or H1B holders, who are afraid that their company will not renew their visa, can relate. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think a policy change should or must be pushed forward? If so, how, and what would you suggest? I’m interested in starting a working group that’d work on giving policy recommendations to the lawmakers.

Hit me up: @eozgeyildirim

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