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I can't find a suitable tag for my question. I hope I'm posting to the right place. I apologize if not.

I'm a prof in CS in US. I have been asked to write a letter of support for a graduate (BSc), call him X, who is applying for H1-B visa. The graduate is non-US and hence need the visa.

I myself have gone through the process several times many years ago. In all my experience, the hiring company has a manager who documents my performance and the letter is written by the manager with the support of the CTO, etc. As a software engineer (in a previous life), I of course totally understand the importance of CS education. But I also know that CS education alone without work experience is insufficient. That's why in all immigration lawyer websites I have seen, they always mention the letter of support should address the applicant's ability to actually perform their tasks. In all my H1-B visa application, my PhD advisor was never asked to write letters to support my H1-B visa application, whether it was for post-doc research, teaching or software engineering.

X has included in his email a webpage that say something to the effect that "Task A can best be done by someone with a CS degree" and wants me to use that too. As an educator, I cannot possibly vouch for whether X can perform his job or not. I believe I can only say something about his grades. Furthermore for all my students in the past 10 years, none of the surveys I have filled in ever ask "Can applicant do his job?". The questions are mostly about his skill level in comparison to others such as "Rank applicant 1-5 in terms of his programming skills." This is the same for all phone calls for reference checks. Also, X has not taken many classes with me.

Can anyone comment on this? This is a supporting letter for H1-B visa application, not for a job application. Thanks in advance.

  • I don't know how these work, so maybe I'm totally off base, but are you a prof in the US, or external to the US? – Azor Ahai Mar 26 at 19:19
  • Sorry. In US. Should have mentioned. Will edit above. The letter is for a non-US student. Hence the need for the visa. – spoock7824 Mar 26 at 20:18
  • Having written something similar, I would go with available evidences. In X's case, you can ask him/her to forward you his/her transcript and the subjects that relate to task A. Then based on your expert opinion, given that X has passed these subjects, and the course X took is accredited, you can then say, as an expert and educator, you expect X has the required skills to carry out task A. It is important to word your sentences based only on the evidences. You cannot say X will complete task A, but you can certainly say he/she has the required skills. – Prof. Santa Claus Mar 27 at 3:20
  • In any case, if there is evidence of competence, it would come from his supervisor. Then clearly, as I mentioned above, the supervisor could have written the letter. I totally agree with you on real evidence of competency. This is not a general letter of recommendation to a company. This is a letter sent to INS. That means that I would have to verify the evidence, which means I would to talk to his supervisor anyway, which begs the question: why is his supervisor not writing the letter instead. – spoock7824 Mar 27 at 5:29
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If you can only talk about his grades from a few classes, have you considered telling the person that you might not be the best choice for a letter of support?

Even just a class can be enough to see a student's skill, for example if a project is a big component in the class or if the instructor closely examines sufficiently detailed assignments and exams. This is really the useful kind of component: "X is skilled at task Y, as evidenced by his work doing Z..." If you just say someone is skilled without much evidence, it won't be afforded much weight anyhow.

If there has been no actual work, you can at most comment on:

  • Their grasp of technical knowledge taught in the course
  • Their intellectual ability (how quickly they were able to learn)
  • Their discipline and professionalism (e.g. in showing up to class, studying and submitting assignments on time)
  • Their talent for that for this area of work based on their performance in the course

It sounds like not much, so as I said, perhaps you might not be the best person to write this.

If you really want to write the letter, I would advise asking fellow faculty if they have experience in such a situation and whether they can help you.

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