Chinese Students and Workers in U.S. Anxious Over Proposed Changes to H-1B Visas

By Paul Harding and Yawen Tang

International workers and students who legally reside in the United States may lose an important pathway to employment and citizenship through a potential reworking of the H-1B Visa, as President-elect Donald Trump continues to develop what may be a complete overhaul of the country’s immigration policy.

Trump has pledged that he would amend the H-1B Visa, adding stipulations that would give hiring preference to American workers over non-citizens competing for the same job.

“I know the H-1B very well. We shouldn’t have it, it’s very, very bad for workers,” Trump said at the 12th Republican Presidential Debate in Miami on March 10th. “It’s unfair to our workers and we should end it.”

The H-1B visa program permits U.S. businesses in need of skilled labor to hire qualified foreign nationals for up to a maximum of six years, allowing those employees and their families to live in the United States.

“We [the U.S.] can only be a leader if we allow talented people from other countries to come and work here,” Patrick Young, Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra University said. “The fact is most of the people that go into these jobs actually keep those companies going; So they’re helping in creating wealth and creating jobs for Americans.”

Though Trump has not yet indicated if he will follow through on amending H-1B since his victory in the election, the entirety of U.S. immigration policy could change under his administration.

“I was concerned because Trump has said he was very against H-1B visas,” Zhexie Liu, an architect working in the United States under the program said. “However he recently said something to the opposite of that. This unexpected election result adds a great deal of uncertainty to my H-1B status which I am deeply concerned about.”

The visa is also particularly attractive to international college students, especially those pursuing a degree in one of the so called STEM majors where graduates are in high demand amongst U.S. employers.

“As a fine arts major and international student, it might be more difficult if I want to get a job in the U.S. after graduation if the H-1B policy changes,” Wenjian Wu, a Chinese international student from Hofstra University, said.

Young said that although the H-1B Visa works, it still needs to be reformed in other areas.

“Well certainly you have students there who are studying for their Masters or their PH.Ds’ and some still won’t be able to work in the United States,”  Young said. “I think one of the biggest problems with it is that it doesn’t recognize the modern world, where people travel across borders to study and are constantly connected through information technology.”

If Trump’s administration holds true to the promises he made during his campaign, U.S. employers will have greatly reduced access to a valuable source of labor, while the country as a whole will fail to benefit from the educated graduates coming out of its own institutions.  Some international students see little choice but to seek employment elsewhere.

“I think we don’t have to be too nervous about whether Trump will reform H-1B visa system. We only need to focus on your specialization and learning your own interest,” Yikai Lian, Vice President of Chinese Students and Scholars Association at Stony Brook University said, “There are huge amounts of job opportunities available all over the world.”  

However some international students are remaining hopeful that the demand for their degrees will lead reform of the H-1B Visa in the right direction.

“According to the bills introduced by the GOP before, while also taking Trump’s attitudes into account, I think Chinese students with PhD degrees will be able to stay in the U.S. at the same ratio regardless,” Houtong Xie, a Chinese international student from Stony Brook University, said.

Only time can determine exactly how the H-1B visa will evolve alongside President-Elect Trump’s still unknown immigration plan, and whether the American economy will adapt in turn to this major shift in the status quo.