best major for international student future visa
June 24, 2005 10:13 AM   Subscribe

A young woman that I am helping has recently left her home country (a totalitarian regime by any account) and is going to be attending undergraduate university in the U.S. in the fall. The school has given her a full ride as her family lives in extreme poverty. After she is done with school, she'll probably want to stay in the U.S., what sort of major should she choose so that she'll have the best chance of getting a job after that will provide her with a visa? I know some will say to choose what she loves, but she needs to be strategic.
posted by k8t to Education (22 answers total)
I've heard that it's very easy for doctors to get work visas in the US, especially if they're a) specialized and b) willing to work in an underrepresented area (for example, my friends father immigrated from India to New York, and he was allowed to stay in the US because he was willing to work in a hick town in Northern California without a lot of professionals).

It seems to me like the US has pretty lax visa policies for anyone with a degree and a job. Brain drain and all that.
posted by muddgirl at 10:30 AM on June 24, 2005

Response by poster: Her country recently closed all the hospitals and medical schools, so that would certainly be one good route as her generation will be lacking in medical professionals. Does it also hold true for nurses?
posted by k8t at 10:33 AM on June 24, 2005

I would agree with muddgirl that any of the bio-sciences are a likely bet - medicine, pharmacy etc. As an added bonus, some of those fields are not subject to the annual cap on visas issued, which may or may not be an issue when she graduates. See
posted by darsh at 10:42 AM on June 24, 2005

It has historically -- lots o' nurses in the US are Canucks, f'rinstance. ISTR that the requirements tightened up recently, but graduating from an American program should make things easier. I don't think the US will give a damn about the state of nursing in her home country -- what will matter are her qualifications, and having a job offer.

If they closed their medical schools, she's not from Cuba, so that easy road is out.

She'll be on firmest ground if lightning strikes and she and an American boy fall in love and marry. Work permits are nice, but no substitute for an honest-to-God unconditional green card.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:43 AM on June 24, 2005

If she's medically-oriented, I'd say become a pharmacist. There's a shortage of them right now, due mainly to the expansion of Walgreens and other 24-hour pharmacies that need round-the-clock staffing.
posted by Atom12 at 10:58 AM on June 24, 2005

An engineering degree is always employable and will get her into any country she'd like to live in. Engineering programmes tend to be have a high attrition rate - if she's not sure that engineering is for her, she probably should choose something else rather than dropping out!
posted by lumiere at 11:08 AM on June 24, 2005

Studying pharmacy might be a good idea, because once you're done you have a lot of options. Many marketing people and sales reps for pharma companies are trained as pharmacists, and there are also many other jobs in big (and small) pharma that are also commonly held by pharmacists. Not to mention insurance companies etc. There's also the research route, which is totally viable, the retail pharmacy route, and places like hospital dispensaries and such.

So even if she doesn't know what she wants to do now, a BPharm won't foreclose on too many options right out of the box. She can take the program and have skills that are in demand in many different environments later on.
posted by mikel at 11:26 AM on June 24, 2005

First of all, what happens to her down the road is going to depend on what she entered the US on. If she is here on a non-immigrant visa, such as an F-1, then the expectation is that she is going to leave (and therefore not immigrate). If the US recognizes her country as bad enough that she could qualify as a refugee or asylee, then she should file for that now. If she is here illegally chances are not good that she will be permitted to stay, much less go to school.

The list goes on...

Can you provide any more details on her situation, etc...?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:28 AM on June 24, 2005

Response by poster: She's on an F1, thankfully. She can get a SS # and all that.

We've discussed seeking asylum, but I've been advised by both an immigration attorney and the American Embassy in her country that it is a hard process and that her family still in country would be in danger. I want her to focus on doing as well as she can in school, not fighting a legal battle. I know that you have to put in a request for asylum within 1 year of arriving in country.

A little more about her:
Her English is nearly perfect - barely any accent. In the Community College classes that she has taken she has a 3.9 average. She is a hard worker, great personality, etc. She has no relatives in the U.S.

Anything else?
posted by k8t at 11:42 AM on June 24, 2005

An engineering degree is always employable

I had a fair number of college chums who graduated with aero engineering degrees and took *forever* to find jobs, and even then they weren't necessarily aero or engineering jobs. Other engineers were in similar positions.

The market for fresh engineers is a terribly cyclical, fickle market.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:17 PM on June 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

The problem with her F-1 is that it is a non-immigrant visa, so, unless she makes a family petition in order to stay in the US, she's committing the sin of what the USCIS calls "dual intent." In other words, when you apply for an F-1, you promise that your intent is to return home, when you file for LPR status you are demonstrating that your intent is not actually to return home. They will let you slide for a family petition (ie you get married, your parents become US Citizens, etc.). If she applies for any other reason, like work or asylum, and she is denied, then she has to leave the country because she has violated her F-1.

Its a dangerous game, obviously so is staying in her country though!

Applying for an H1-B upon completion is not a status violation, further H1-B's are rarely nailed on dual intent. Most H1-B visas right now go to the high tech industry, either programming or engineering. Biotech is also a big field for H1-B's. Those fields also hold a lot of promise in other parts of the world. Not to sound discouraging, but if things don't work out with staying in the US, then it would be great to have a skill that could be used in, say, Canada or Germany!

There is talk of raising the number of H1-B's to 200,000 per year, right now it's 150,000. They only issue 140,000 employment based green cards each year, so I wouldn't say that she's got the best odds of getting one of those, especially coming strait from F-1 status with the whole dual intent thing, unless she goes into bio-medical research (seriously). She will have to be the top of the top to get one of those.

As for asylum, you don't have to apply for it within one year but you have to demonstrate that things changed after that year. A good thing about asylum is that it is free to apply. Asylum doesn't automatically give you permanent residence so it's still arguable that there is no dual intent.

[This section removed as I'd rather not put it on a public web site, k8t please contact me at pollomacho at hotmail dot com and I will tell you personally what I was going to write here, thanks]

I don't really see how filing for asylum will be worse for her parents then filing for any other immigration status? If she refuses to come home, she refuses, its that simple.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:20 PM on June 24, 2005

Response by poster: Pollo, if she applies for asylum the authorities could easily "punish" her parents and siblings -- either by hurting them or denying them jobs.
posted by k8t at 12:23 PM on June 24, 2005

Also, as an alien she'd find it ~impossible to get a security clearance, which would rule out lots and lots of defense-related engineering jobs. Which is where a lot of the jobs are.

Nursing is probably a good bet for a program that's relatively likely to get her a green card and eventual citizenship, so that she can sponsor her family. Nursing would also help to open doors to other OECD countries like Canada or the EU nations.

But really I'd guess that the most important factor is that just by living in the US during her education, she's not-unlikely to run into some nice American or green-card-holding boy. Nothing you can plan for, but getting a green card through marriage is about a zillion times easier than getting an employment-based one. Assuming you're married longer than 2 years, you retain the green card even if you divorce.

Macho Chicken: if she's applying for a work permit as her F1 eligibility runs out, she won't have much to lose as she'd have to leave soon anyway, neh?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:39 PM on June 24, 2005

Not to be scary, but they could also do that if she applies for a green card! we're talking about totalitarian arse-hats here!

It's not like the US government sends the dictator a postcard with a picture of the Asylee on it saying, "Guess who thinks you suck?" She will simply not return home, just as if she got any other type of residence here. If her country wants to take it out on her family, they are going to for her staying here, not because of her specifically staying due to asylum (which they won't know anyway).
posted by Pollomacho at 12:41 PM on June 24, 2005

Best answer: if she's applying for a work permit as her F1 eligibility runs out, she won't have much to lose as she'd have to leave soon anyway, neh?

She can always just keep going to school though. Associates, Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate... That buys you a lot of years if you can afford it (which reminds me, if she gets asylum now, she can start getting need based scholarships and in-state tuition, not available to F-1's)!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:45 PM on June 24, 2005

Response by poster: Anyone know of some sites that help an individual go through the asylum process? Is it a good idea to contact one's congressional reps?
posted by k8t at 1:26 PM on June 24, 2005

A good place to start is USCIS. I've been trying to find the address for a really great group called the Tahiri Justice Center, they help women with asylum issues and are just fantastic! If anyone has a link out there...
posted by Pollomacho at 1:46 PM on June 24, 2005

I'm an engineer and would also not recommend the career path to anyone looking for a technical degree. There is a huge amount of outsourcing happening in this field and it is very, very difficult for junior engineers (as well as engineers over a certain age) to get jobs. It appears that the same holds true for computer science majors as well.
posted by j at 1:50 PM on June 24, 2005

ROU_Xenophobe and j are correct about engineering degrees not being automatic employment tickets, at least in the U.S. Some are better than others. Last time I looked, chemists and civil engineers were doing OK, while mechanical and software engineers were hurting.

I think the security clearance may not be an issue, though. Remember that guy who was falsely accused of bringing top-secret material out of Los Alamos? Had a clearance, and if I'm not mistaken, he's a PRC native.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:05 PM on June 24, 2005

I agree with ROU - many good solid engineering job require some level of security clearance, and they usually pre-screen for immigrants from any country - my friend from Macedonia was recently denied a math internship because it was funded by the DOD. Especially recently, they are wary of people with any ties to non-friendly (read: not western europe or canada) foreign countries.
posted by muddgirl at 2:50 PM on June 24, 2005

Best answer: As a US citizen whose wife came here on a tourist visa, I'll back those who have mentioned the fall-in-love route. Don't marry a @#$%, obviously, but do consider marriage seriously.

She and her hubby should have an appartment lease with both names, a joint bank account, and should take plenty of pictures. USCIS officers are happy as long as you've got your paperwork in order. The interview my wife and I had for her green card took less than 20 minutes and the most pointed question asked was, ``How did you two meet?'

Check state laws as far as separation periods for divorce, etc. Some states require a year or more of documented separation before a no-fault divorce can be filed. I should assert here that I am NOT advocating that she marry someone for the purpose of getting permanent residency--that could end badly both on a personal level and a legal level. The point is that the beau should know what he's getting himself into if part of his motivation for jumping into marriage sooner rather than later is her status.

k8t, if it comes to it, you should be the one to talk to this young man about this--not her. I have no idea how I would have reacted if my wife had been the one to bring up the issue of her status... that's just not in her character... point is I don't think I'd have married a young woman who brought that up with me; it would have come off as a business proposal. As it was, I was left to wonder, ``Am I willing to lose her because I was too chicken to marry young?'

I know two other couples locally that are going through the same process... there are lots of us. Getting a visa for your spouse is a little expensive (legal fees, filing fees), but certainly less chancy than other routes to permanent residency. has lots of great immigration resources, btw. Check them out.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 4:29 PM on June 24, 2005

Engineering: Don't rule it out based only on today's job market. Though the market has gotten better this year and looks like it's on its way up (this according to my school's employment statistics), it's also important to realize that engineers work successfully in many fields and can easily transfer because it's not just a specialty but a way of thinking.

The defense related jobs are definitely an issue for aero/astro (where the govt and Boeing are your only major employers). Less so for chemical and mechanical.
posted by whatzit at 6:03 AM on June 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

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