Most international students require a special type of visa, the F1, to study in the U.S. toward a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree. This visa not only allows the student to study in the U.S., but also work over the summer in a Curricular Practical Training (CPT) Program and for one more year in an Optional Practical Training Program (OPT) after he or she graduates. To continue working in the U.S. after the OPT expires, most international employees have to be sponsored by their company on an H-1B visa. This H-1B visa allows the employee to work for three more years in the U.S. with the possibility of an additional 3 year extension. Congress capped the number of H-1B visas to be granted each year at 65,000 for all levels of university students, and then added another 20,000 allowed especially for masters and doctoral students. Thus, the total supply of such visas is 85,000. The demand for such visas has been building in recent years; we expected that demand would materially exceed the supply

Based on a historical trend indicating an increase in demand for H-1B numbers, we took action in early 2007 as the above-described scenario played out. We formed a task force to coordinate a comprehensive program of support. This included reaching out to faculty to help students complete their qualifications in time for the deadline. Associate Dean Robert Carraway met with Congressman Virgil Goode’s office to express our concern and explore possible solutions. UVA President Casteen’s legislative affairs officials contacted the Virginia Congressional delegation. Meanwhile, Denise Karaoli reached out to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to master the details of the petition process and ensure that our assistance to students would meet the letter of the requirements. We polled every single international student to ensure that they knew the requirements and completed the necessary paperwork on time. 24 students were potentially affected; 11 students asked for assistance. The petitions were submitted. Then we waited.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service began accepting applications for visas on April 2nd. On April 3rd, USCIS announced that it had received 125,000 applications and immediately would stop accepting applications. Within 48 hours the entire quota of visas had been surpassed. The demand for visas was unexpected and unprecedented. Of the 11 students with whom the Darden task force worked, five received an approved H-1B petition and six did not. The good news is that for the students who did not receive an approved H-1B petition, no companies reneged on their offers of employment—it is understood that these students can work until their OPT expires, and then the companies will send them to their home countries for a few months during the gap between the end of OPT and the beginning of H-1B status. The recruiting companies are showing good flexibility and support for our students, helping them in every way and adhering to their longstanding outreach to Darden students despite the rising imbalance between supply and demand for visas.

All business schools in the U.S. feel the pain of this imbalance. As best we can tell, Darden is one of the most proactive in dealing with it.

University of Virginia has taken a leadership role in advocating increases in the visa caps for international students. UVA is working with affiliated higher education associations, principally the AAU and NASULGC and recently played a central role in organizing the National Academies of Science conference, “Convocation on Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” The Convocation strongly recommended an increase in the cap, and called for easier visa access for internationl students and researchers. The conference was attended by numerous members of Congress, as well as leaders from the nation’s business community. We think the conference’s findings have contributed positively to the debate in Congress.

You may ask, “Why should Darden bother itself with all this visa stuff?” I’ll offer three reasons. First, Darden prides itself on offering the “high touch” educational experience in the field, one that does not stop at the door of the classroom. Our orientation to total high-quality education springs from our philosophy that learning occurs day and night; at the Darden grounds and beyond; in settings that are structured and not. By attending to the total experience we promote learning. Coaching our students through the visa ordeal is one more means by which we help to develop great professionals. Second, one important way in which we promote the total experience is by recruiting an outstanding and diverse class of students. The quality of our case-method experience is heightened by engaging students with many different backgrounds and viewpoints. Offering outstanding support for international students is one signal that they are welcome at Darden. And third, globalization is an inexorable trend in business. A globally-diverse classroom helps to prepare our students to deal with a business world that will become more challenging in the future.

Congress will eventually resolve the challenging visa situation for international students. Until then, Darden will work very hard to assist its international students in this complex area.

Posted by Robert Bruner at 08/02/2007 11:23:50 AM