Now that we have examined Trump’s main election promises, and have shown that they will have negligible or positive impacts on admission chances of international students applying to US universities, there remains only one big question to answer: how, exactly, will Trump’s administration change the attractiveness of the US as a place to study, for an international student?

Through the explanation in previous sections, we have proven that admission rates will stay static or go up slightly. We will now look at job visas, and prove that they, too, will remain as easy or difficult to acquire as they are currently (for students who complete a degree in the US).

Basic Background: 5 easy facts

  • If you want to go to college in the US, and are not American, you need an F1 visa
  • If you want to work in the US, the first visa you will need to get is the H1B
  • Two kinds of people apply for an H1B:
    • People who have an F1 visa (students in the US, who are looking to work in the US post their graduation)
    • People working outside the US whose companies need them to work in the US for an extended period of time
  • 65,000 H1B visas are awarded every year; no more
  • After a student on an F1 visa graduates, he / she has an Optional Practical Training (OPT) period (can be up to 3 years long for many courses e.g. in Science / Engineering) during which he / she can find a job and work before getting an H1B visa approved

Now, imagine that you’re Donald Trump, and you have to decide what to do with the number of H1B visas you award every year. Let’s assume you decide to reduce this number, as some fear you might. Here are some questions that might run through your mind, as you decide how to reduce this.

Q: Which kind of H1B awardee is better for my overall policy as a President? A current F1 visa holder or someone working in a different country currently?

One thing has been consistent across all Mr. Trump’s messaging: under him, he wants the US to retain skilled workers, and potential skilled workers. Holders of an F1 visa definitely fall under the latter category. Giving one of these an H1B visa guarantees that the US will hold on to this skilled worker for at least a few years. On the other hand, giving an H1B visa to a worker from a different country, coming to the US for a single year long project for example (to make it easier to envision, let’s assume that the worker is coming from a large tech company like Wipro) does not make it easier to retain this worker in the long run; in this case, the company has the control. Therefore, the Trump administration would prefer awarding an H1B visa to a current F1 visa holder in the US.

Q: Who has it easier? Is it easier for an F1 holder to get an H1B, or for a skilled worker in another country?

For the reason laid out above, it is definitely easier for an F1 visa holder to get an H1B visa. In addition, the 3 year OPT period gives an F1 visa holder more chances; 3 years, and 65,000 H1B visa awards per year, implies 195,000 visas awarded, and increases the chances that an F1 holder will get an H1B visa. However, an international company applicant for a stint in the US sometimes does not even have a window long enough to benefit from the probability of all 65,000 offered in a year, and is at a clear numbers disadvantage.

Q: So, if I cut the quota, which kind of H1B awardee’s numbers do I cut?

From both the questions above, it is clear that, in case there is some cutting of H1B numbers to save skilled jobs for American workers, all the reduction will happen in that portion of the H1B visas that are currently awarded to skilled workers in other countries. In all probability, there will be no change in the numbers of F1 visa holders who are awarded H1B visas.

Q: Are companies in other countries already doing something about this?

Yes. Multiple large Indian tech and process offshoring companies have foreseen this, and are hiring F1 visa holders from US universities, as a more viable, safer alternative to sending current employees to the US for every short term project. The shift will not happen overnight, but it is already definitely in progress.

Q: Have other US Presidents reduced the H1B quota in the recent past?

Yes. A little over a decade ago, in 2004, the number of H1B visas awarded per year was slashed by 67%, to its current level of 65,000 per year. This provides the biggest piece of evidence that a cut in the number of H1B visas will not impact students in the US, since the number of students applying to and getting accepted by universities in the United States has steadily grown since then. This would have not been the case had the job market for F1 visa holders been dependent on the total number of H1B visas awarded per year.

The reasoning above, coupled with the powerful argument of a historical slash in H1B numbers not impacting job prospects for F1 visa holders with a job, makes it clear that there is no need to worry about a reduction in the overall H1B quota.