Beki Grinter

Adventures in Intent: F1&H1-B

In immigration on March 15, 2011 at 9:42 pm

In 1991 I was offered a Fulbright Scholarship that would cover a portion of my Ph.D. It was an attractive offer. At the time I was choosing between two institutions, UC Irvine and a British University. I wanted to go to Irvine, but to do so I needed funding. The Fulbright was some of that funding, and I was very tempted. But ultimately, I declined it, (and before I received the scholarship that would let me attend UC Irvine).

Why decline the Fulbright?

Because it came with an Intent to Return clause (also have heard it described as the “go home clause” and more formally it’s known as the foreign or home residency requirement) on my visa. The Intent to Return is a condition that requires the visa holder to return to their country of origin and reside there for two years post completion of their studies before they may re-enter the United States. Not all visas come with this stipulation, but I was told that it was very common for people who received Fulbright scholarships to end up with this Intent to Return attached to their visa.

I didn’t like that idea. I wasn’t sure I knew what I wanted to do post-Ph.D., but I was pretty sure I didn’t want conditions attached to my decision. And I was incredibly lucky that I had choices. I could decline the Fulbright, because I had another option in the U.K. Ultimately I received a no stipulations fellowship from the U.K. that would allow me to go to Irvine and support me for most of the way through the program.

I can understand one rationale for the Go Home clause, it’s the idea that people can receive education in the U.S. and take the results of that and apply it back in their country of origin. At the same time I think there is a risk and a challenge in asking that. The risk is that if we discover really talented people while they are in the course of their program that we lose them. The challenge we ask of anyone who accepts these terms is that they know how their lives will be in 5-6 years. I know I couldn’t have made a good prediction about my life at the age of many people who enter the PhD program, in my early 20s.

Intent is an interesting term in the U.S. immigration system. Broadly there are two categories of intent. Intent to not stay (the Go Home clause is a very particular instance of this), but many visas mean that their holder is only here temporarily, and Intent to Stay (the Greencard is a good example of this).

Have you ever wondered why the H1-B is such an important visa? Why do so many immigrants want an H1-B visa ?Why is it so popular that the caps for these visas run out each year, long before the end of the year and all the people who need one have one? What creates the demand? The H1-B visa is one of the few visas that has “dual intent.” It’s a visa which you can apply for while on a student “intent to return” visa and one that while holding it you can apply for an “intent to stay” visa. You can’t apply for a greencard immediately after having a student visa if you are a worker, you have to apply for the H1-B visa, and you have to be on that visa before you can apply for the greencard.

Now what makes this particularly curious is that when you apply for the greencard as a worker, you go through a variety of work-related tests. You are tested to ensure that your job meets certain labor standards. You are assessed on your qualifications as to whether you, above all others, should hold it and for its relevance to the United States. So, if the greencard is an examination of work-related abilities, why can’t you when you finish school and start employment immediately transfer from one to the other? I’ve never understood the work that the H1-B is doing other than generating a lot of additional processing for the immigration authorities. I spent 6 years on an H1-B visa. I did not want to do so, but I had no choice, I had to apply post-PhD for the H1-B in order to be eligible to apply for the greencard.

In a series of posts I’ve had asking questions about the US immigration system, I ask two today. First, what risks do we incur when we ask people to “go home?” Second, what work is the H1-B doing if there are processes for a work-based greencard that test someones abilities (as well as their health, criminal record, etc…) that make delaying the vetting for permanent residence and the use of the H1-B desirable?

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