Born and raised in Venezuela, Andrea Sanchez spent her childhood accompanying her dad, an engineer and university professor, to the lab. Years later, eager to pursue the same career, she entered a doctorate program at the University of South Florida. Studying in the United States was her top choice; Andrea had lived with an American family for a time during college and completed a fellowship funded by the Department of Transportation. She knew American culture well, and she wanted to be a part of it.
In January 2010, Andrea entered USF’s Corrosion Engineering PhD program, where she developed a model to predict the lifespan of bridges. Looking toward graduation, she dreamed of working at a national lab like NASA, but her immigration status presented many obstacles. Many companies pretended they weren’t really hiring after discovering she was on a temporary visa. “It’s hard for me to understand,” Andrea said at the time. “They give us the opportunity to grow here, to develop our skills, our talent. At the end it’s like winning the race. You’re in first place, but you don’t get recognized.”
This is the country that trained me. Tax payers’ money funded my education. I want to impact the communities here.
Andrea eventually found work with an engineering firm in Ohio. Once there, she began developing risk assessment models to predict the failure of oil and gas pipelines. The project had immediate, practical implications for the U.S. economy and the safety of its citizens—and Andrea was thrilled to be making such a contribution. Yet because of visa requirements, Andrea will be forced to leave the country, taking her highly valued skills with her. If she wants to apply for permanent residency here, she’ll first need to spend 16 months in Venezuela. Whether she’ll be able to return is uncertain. By that time, she may have put down roots in South America. It’s a loss for her engineering firm and for all of Ohio.
“I’m on my own now,” Andrea says. “I can continue building my skill set and maintain my network and see if I can come back. I want to come back. This is the country that trained me. Tax payers’ money funded my education. I want to impact the communities here.”