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Limitation on work visas puts immigrants in difficult situation, advocates say

Hoping to improve their financial condition and the wherewithal they need to send money home to their loved ones, many immigrants go to great lengths to earn the type of education that’s required for certain jobs. And after years of hard work in class, their efforts are rewarded when they land a job.

However, due to an unusual rule concerning visa issuance, some immigrants may be prevented from launching their careers in the U.S.

As initially pointed out by The Des Moines Register, immigration officials limit the number of work visas that are granted in a given year to immigrants. No more than 85,000 visas are handed out annually, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Because of this, many people who have experience in work areas that are needed in the U.S. may have to go to their home country when their student visa expires.

Though this isn’t a new policy, immigration advocates say that it’s not something foreigners may realize when they first enter the U.S. They are often then disappointed when they learn that the government has reached the 85,000 cap.

“I don’t think it’s wise or makes any sense to spend that kind of money on someone, then leave them to struggle for themselves,” Kazeem Olanrewaju, who hails from Africa, told the Des Moines Register. Olanrewaju recently graduated with a degree in Engineering, but his years of study may all be for naught if he’s denied a work visa.

Naturalization process can take more than a decade
Something else that often works against immigrants is the time it takes to become a citizen after initially entering the U.S. under a student visa. According to USCIS, it can take as many as 10 years or more for an immigrant to become a citizen after they graduate from college. This is the case not only because there’s a limited number of work visas given out in any given year – 65,000 for highly skilled workers and 20,000 for individuals seeking a graduate degree – but there’s a series of steps involved. As a general rule, immigrants who enter the U.S. as a student must first obtain a student visa, then an H-1B work visa, then a green card, then finally citizenship.

However, a lengthy amount of time has to have passed before an immigrant is citizen eligible. USCIS notes that an individual has to have had a green card for a minimum of five years before they can apply for naturalization. And even once this is achieved, they have to pass a series of tests.

While President Barack Obama has given indications he intends to address this immigration problem this year, solutions have been considered. Recently, the U.S Congress passed the STEM Jobs Act of 2012, STEM standing for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.” This would provide immigrants who are seeking a degree in one of these fields with additional opportunities to obtain a visa, as an extra 55,000 visas would be awarded to eligible candidates on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“Efforts to increase visas for STEM workers educated in the U.S. … is a positive step toward making the nation’s immigration system more responsive to the needs of the economy and improving the inadequate U.S. visa system,” said Jessica Zuckerman, a research associate at the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies.

The bill stills needs to be voted on and passed by the U.S. Senate before it can be given to the president for his signature.

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