Is it worth doing an MS in the US after the recent developments in the H-1B visa?

 In Information, Opinions

Why is Trump after H-1Bs?

Trump has so much political pressure because of his promises during the elections that he is going over board. This has been worsened by Disney’s lawsuit where an American employee who was laid off sued that tech companies are not hiring foreigners because they cannot find that talent in US but they are hiring them because of low wages. Making it too tough will definitely antagonize Tech industry which itself is a non-trivial lobby. Therefore, I see it as a short term issue rather than long term.

Obviously, its a multi layered issue. Lets take a look-

What are the proposed changes to H-1B visa norms?

As per HindustanTimes, following changes has been suggested in recent bills (some readers have pointed out that some of these are incorrect which shows how misguiding Indian media can be)-

  • Doubling minimum salaries of H-1B visa holders to $130,000 – BAD
  • Earmark 20% of H-1B visas for small and start-up employers
  • Remove ‘per country’ cap for employment visas to ensure equal distribution
  • Firms hiring H-1B visa holders need to make a “good faith” effort to recruit Americans first
  • Give preference to students educated in the US for H-1B visas rather than computerized lottery system – GOOD
  • Crack down on outsourcing companies that import workers for temporary training and then send them back home to do the same job – GOOD
  • Prohibit spouses of H-1B visa holders from working in the US
  • Prohibit companies with more than 50 employees, of which at least half are H-1B or L-1 holders, from hiring additional H-1B employees – BAD
  • Strict audit and vetting by Department of Labor to clamp down on fraud or misuse

Should international students be worried?

Many of these will negatively impact people getting H-1B via TCS/Infosys kind of companies. An international F1 based grad student will only be impacted when-

  1. Min H-1B wage is raised
  2. OPT extension is removed
  3. MS quota is removed

First point here is quite negative and if its raised to 130K as per the latest proposal on 31 Jan, it will be brutal. No doubt. In fact, if they clamp down more on TCS/Infosys scenarios, it might turn out beneficial to other H-1B applicants (including grad students) because of reduced competition!

There has been hue and cry over H-1Bs in the past as well but anti H-1B laws never passed. In fact, OPT 24 months extension was a big boost for international students. But it does not mean that the new law cannot pass. I think we need to wait for what happens with this bill. (as of 1 Feb, 2017)

Assuming it passes and minimum wage is raised to 100K+ will impact recruitment and many employers may cut down on campus recruitment of internationals. As one post here points out about Mech recruitment slowdown even from a school like UIUC – that is possible in other non-IT fields as well. Although to be fair, Mech recruiting has always been more sluggish than CS, EE, MIS/MEM recruitment because many jobs are in defense or state agencies which require American citizenship. It means that a student will have to hustle more for limited jobs. That is harsh reality. So, there is no doubt that circumstances of finding jobs/internships will get TOUGHER if these laws are passed (only if min wage is increased too much, OPT ext revoked).

Now, should you not go for MS in that case?

I would still be optimistic about MS but I will be cautious on financial matters. USA, still, remains a better job market than most other countries. For tech fields, it is worth a hustle. For non-tech fields, yes, be more wary. A better strategy can be to:

  • Apply to schools with chances of funding/lower financial burden.
  • Apply to schools in urban areas, metros such as NYC, Silicon Valley, Boston, Chicago – if companies get wary of recruitment, they stop traveling to interior locations.
    At the end of the day, there will always be jobs for people with strong skills (in in-demand fields such as IT, Analytics etc) but those who are relying on getting an easier pass just by graduating from US may have to bite a bullet.

In summary, I am not saying that things are all hunky dory and there is nothing to worry but unless this law gets passed, it doesn’t matter. Just like his ban on 7 nations is still in a state of confusion (with federal court ruling against his ban but executive order still prevailing) – things are murky. Let’s wait and watch. So, please be patient.

What I have heard about campus placements so far?

  1. UMCP MIS has seen decline in companies sponsoring H-1Bs.
  2. A student seeing a decline in campus placements and H-1B sponsorships at NCSU.
  3. Another student was more neutral about her MSBA program at ASU. She will inform once the fulltime recruitment begins this semester.
  4. A student who recently graduated and is on OPT has not reported any negative news in his company yet.
  5. A Harvard CS student is less fearful – ‘I’ve had emails this week from 3 different companies asking me if I’m interested in full-time positions starting after spring. It will definitely have some negative impact, but if you’re good and try hard enough, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find a job.’
  6. One ECE student from TAMU – ‘During career fair last week most of the companies were particularly asking about sponsorship requirement which I haven’t heard that much during the career fairs conducted last semester.’

I am not taking sides yet but bracing up for a tough ride if Trump goes rogue 🙂

I mentor students and have been directly helping MS aspirants at Scholar Strategy but I have tried to keep my views as unbiased as possible. The fact is when I went to attend UIUC and graduated, there was no STEM OPT extension. Lottery happened and I lucked out. I could get lucky only because I had decided to take a chance. So, take a calculated risk, an informed decision. Go for MS – not just for jobs but to build your skills and learn. Once you focus on learning valuable skills, job will find you (if not US, a better place) 🙂

This post was originally posted on Quora.

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