I came to the U.S. from England ten months ago to join my husband Mike, who is completing his MBA at Stanford University. Mike has a computer science and consulting background, but his love for technology started from a very young age (he built his first computer when he was 8 years old!) – so having the opportunity to learn and gain experience in the heart of Silicon Valley was a lifelong dream for him and we were both thrilled at the prospect of an adventure in California.
Mike and I maintained a long distance relationship during his first year at Stanford as I was completing my masters in Human Resources in the UK. We got married in the summer of 2014 and I joined Mike in California on an F-2 spousal visa. The U.S. F-1/F-2 visas are for students and their dependents, but one of the restrictions of this visa is that I am not permitted to work while we are here. I planned to obtain a visa that would allow me to work and continue with my career, as I have nearly seven years of work experience, and before moving I had researched the demand for HR professionals in the area and it seemed strong. However, I soon learned that finding a job wasn’t going to be the challenge. Instead, the challenge would be getting a visa to allow me to apply my skills in the workplace and contribute to the U.S. economy.
The best visa for me to apply for was the H-1B, which allows foreign nationals to work in the U.S. for up to six years. In order to apply for an H-1B, I would need an offer of employment and sponsorship from a company – and I quickly found that the lengthy and expensive H-1B application process deters many companies from hiring people like me.
H-1B visas are issued based on a hugely oversubscribed lottery and there is no way to guarantee success. The companies I hoped would sponsor me reserve their H-1B visa applications for people with technical skills and wouldn’t consider sponsoring someone in human resources. Even though there is demand for people with my skill set, I haven’t been able to apply for a visa and I feel a great deal of uncertainty about my career.
But this isn’t just my story, it’s Mike’s as well. I’m thrilled to say he has accepted a wonderful offer with a company in Silicon Valley and has been able to apply for a H-1B. Yet even with everything in place, we are still waiting to hear whether he has been successful in the lottery and cannot plan for our future while the uncertainty hangs over us. If Mike’s application is successful, I will move to an H-4 visa as his dependent. Though H-4 visa holders cannot currently work, President Obama’s executive actions on immigration will soon allow H-4 visa holders to apply for work permits.
Living with such a high degree of uncertainty about how long we will be able to stay in the U.S. affects many aspects of our lives. For example, we would like to buy a home here and put down roots as a family, but our uncertainty about our visas means we can’t commit to investing in a home. From an economic standpoint, these restrictions seem incredibly limiting – both to us and the local economy – but the real damage is the knowledge that we can’t build our life here together with no idea what might happen next.
This post was written by Helen Howard, a Silicon Valley chapter member. Find your FWD.us chapter here.