Patricia Alves works at Vacation Express, a Buckhead travel agency. She graduated from Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., in May, and hopes to continue to work in America.
Alves moved to the U.S. to pursue a talent for tennis, and received a scholarship to Presbyterian, where she earned four NCAA Division I varsity letters. Alves had a 3.41 grade point average and earned bachelor’s degrees in economics and business administration, with a concentration in management.
She said she made the decision to attend college in America because she wanted to keep playing the game she loves.
“We don’t have what America has to offer,” Alves said. “They offer scholarships to athletes and we don’t have that. Since I have been playing since I was 10, I didn’t want to stop the sport.”
In order to study in the U.S., Alves obtained an F1 student visa, and an extension called the Optional Practical Training for qualified students in order to stay in America and work this summer.
The next step is to get an H1B visa for work and a sponsor. When a student graduates, he or she has to find a sponsor who will petition for him or her to work in the U.S. However, if Alves cannot find a sponsor by May, she will have to go back to Brazil.
“I’m not positive if my company will offer me that. We haven’t talked about it.” Alves said of a sponsorship.
Sanford Posner, an immigration attorney at Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp and Wilson LLP in downtown Atlanta and an expert in the field, said the issue is a Catch 22.
“We give them a first-class education, but then we can’t have them use their education to benefit our economy,” he said.
Alves said she connected with her current employer through networking. She said she is lucky to be one of those who found employment.
Posner said the sponsor process is difficult and mostly based on luck. April 1, students can sign up to receive an H1B visa that allows them to continue to live in the U.S. after graduating from college.
However, there are only about 65,000 slots, with an additional 20,000 slots for those who graduated from a U.S. college.
There are two to three applicants for every slot. Since there are many more applicants than slots, a lottery system is used. Employers do not want to sponsor someone if he or she does not have access to this visa, because it is a hiring risk for them, Posner said.
“It’s an extremely frustrating position to be in,” he said. “This is one of the problems with our immigration system. We have people from all over the world, the best and the brightest, who come to get an education here, and they’re stuck.
“They can’t put it to use in our economy, and they have to go back to their home country, where there may not be the same job opportunities.”
Phone messages left with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration, Customs and Enforcement division’s public relations office in Washington seeking comment on the issue were not returned at press time.