Colombian PhD Candidate Hopes Congress Passes Reform Before His Visa Expires

Miguel Diaz is set to graduate from his PhD program this year, and he needs a job. Without a green card, however, he is having trouble finding companies who will take him seriously.

Miguel Diaz, a native of Colombia, is set to graduate with a PhD in materials science from the University of California, Merced this fall, and he is hoping to get a job that will allow him to stay in the United States. The hiring process hasn’t been easy for him, though. “Every time you apply for a job, it’s difficult because, once recruiters see your resume, and everything goes well, they then ask if you’re allowed to work in the United States,” he explains of the discouraging process. “When recruiters ask you that question, they mark your CV, or they put it in another pile—or sometimes they openly tell you, ‘If you get your green card by the time that you graduate, that would be best.’”

Miguel grew up in rural Colombia. He was the first of his family to attend college—and the only who has attended graduate school—where he earned a degree in chemical engineering from a Colombian university in 2005. Shortly thereafter, he started two of his own companies in Colombia and Venezuela, but due to economic and political instability, he was forced to eventually close both of them. With the long-term goal of becoming a faculty professor at a Colombian university, he decided to move to the United States in 2008 to pursue a PhD.

Now, as he finishes his dissertation and prepares for graduation in the fall, he is desperately hoping that Congress changes its mind and ultimately moves to pass immigration reform. “It seems more political than any other issue,” he observes. “Unfortunately, it is the way it is. I wish Congress would solve it before my deadline,” he says, sounding discouraged.

Miguel’s deadline is quickly approaching. His Optional Practical Training (OPT), a period of time granted to graduating students to gain hands-on experience in the fields of their study, will expire in November of this year. Exploring all opportunities, Miguel has been trying to pursue different pathways to remain in the country, whether through an internship, a full-time job, or even a position in a related industry. So far, he has received several offers, but he has not been able to accept any of them because of his immigration status and the companies’ unwillingness or inability to sponsor his visa. He has even thought about starting his own company—this time in the United States—but recognizes this is equally as difficult, as the U.S. currently does not have a designated visa for foreign entrepreneurs unless they are able to fund themselves.

And Miguel is not alone. He says he has seen many of his friends receive their degrees, usually in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—like himself, only to go down the same dead-end path that he finds himself on now. “A lot of my classmates have had to return to their home countries because they can’t find anything in their area of expertise.” Many prospective employers will often say, “You’re an excellent candidate, but unfortunately, this stands in the way.”

Though facing an uncertain future, Miguel continues to be positive. “I came here with nothing, and now I’m getting something that cannot be taken away: my education. Everyone who is here is trying to work hard and move the economy forward. If I have the chance, I really want to give back…but [right now] the government isn’t letting me.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…