Today marks the last installment of the ongoing series Keep The Future Here. OpedSpace in partnership with FWD.us sought to bring to light the stories of high-skilled immigrants affected by America’s broken immigration system. As you’ve read from the stories of Karen, Ashwin, Tewfik, Wojciech, Jan, Kartik, Asaf, Bastian and Eileen, this issue touches the lives of so many living in the United Sates. Although the current system is designed to provide international students with the best higher education in the world, upon graduation many of these students’ visas expire and they are faced with the possibility of deportation or enduring the long and uncertain process of applying for an H-1B visa. The irony: many of these students are ready and eager to put their education to use in the U.S. and contribute to its economy in industries from technology to finance to engineering. Hear from some of these voices below. If you have a story you want to share, please tweet @opedspace using #freedom2innovate.
Bastian Purrer (San Francisco, CA/Berlin, Germany)
When I was 14 years old, long before taking my first step in the United States, I tacked an American flag on my bedroom wall. The U.S. fascinated me — the notion of free speech and free markets, the stern and confident reaction to the tragedy of 9/11, and what America had done for my home country during World War II and the Cold War.
My flag has now seen bedroom walls in six countries since then and is now hanging in San Francisco. I’ve now spent two-and-a-half years in the U.S. on three different visas, including my time at Harvard Business School, and I am still grateful for each day in this wonderful country.
Unfortunately, my time in this country is coming to an end. My H-1B application for a management role in a local start-up left me bewildered and frustrated. This country inspired me and educated me. Not to mention, the American company I work for went through the endless and painful process of applying for a visa on behalf. Despite all of this, I am now being kicked out because I lost in a lottery. A lottery of all things! Thousands of workers are in the same situation, some of whom are the world’s best and brightest engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs.
This is simply mind-boggling today where countries are competing for talent and the economy is becoming ever-more globalized. Today’s world is one of cyber wars, where so much of America’s power depends on its collective intelligence. And American universities are attracting the best and most ambitious young minds from all around the globe, only for the immigration system to reject many of them.
I believe Americans underestimate just how many people inspired by the American dream — the idea that everyone can become successful, the idea that America is the land of opportunities. Unfortunately, the immigration system and the resulting brain drain are the American Dream’s most lethal enemies.
Eileen Hakyung Han (Boston, MA/Seoul, South Korea)
Many international people talk about language barriers and the various challenges of being in an environment that is unfamiliar. I am one of those people. Believe it or not, it took me a few years to be able to say the words “entrepreneurs” and “entrepreneurship” correctly.
As a student at Northeastern, I became a member of the Entrepreneurs Club where I was exposed to an entirely new world that I could have never possibly imagined. It inspired in me a yearning to become and entrepreneur and to think about what kind of leader I want to be. Throughout my time at school, I studied management rather than something that would have potentially helped me to stay in the U.S. longer (for example, a major in STEM). But I don’t regret this decision.
After doing so, I joined a startup — another decision I don’t regret despite people telling me that I should have joined a well-known company to increase my chances of staying in the U.S. I strongly believed, and still believe, that we could grow the company and make it big. I started as a volunteer and became a founding member of Attend.Inc. Everyday there was a gift — a chance for me to do and learn something new. I woke up excited to go to work I was excited going to work, excited to get something done, excited to work with people I could call team members.
But I was unlucky and did not get the H-1B visa aI needed to stay in this country. Receiving the letter of denial was heartbreaking. No one wants to leave something and people who make them happy. And for me, that was the company and the people with whom I worked and shared memories; the city which which I fell in love seven years prior not knowing a soul there and that is now filled with mentors, friends, and colleagues I admire.
I wanted to stay to give back to the people and community that believed in me and gave me a chance. And as an international student from Korea, I wanted to set an example for others following in my path. I wanted to be an inspiration to those who want to follow their dreams, as I did. But I have not stopped trying to find a way to return to the U.S. despite the fact that I am not unhappy in Seoul.
Most importantly, I have to keep my promise to those who went from stranger to mentor and served as my strength, motivation, and inspiration. As my mentor Karen Kaplan, the Chairman and CEO of Hill Holliday, said, “Stories are powerful, and inspiring leaders have interesting stories that people like to hear and share.” I know that I am writing a challenging yet interesting chapter of my own story right now.
To learn more about where your U.S. Representative stands on immigration reform, enter your zip code below.