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I am a social science PhD student (with a quantitative bent) at a U.S. research university. If paperwork is not a concern, I would be equivalently interested in working as an academic and in private industries. However, one of my goal is to be able to stay in the U.S., thus to craft my plan I hope to know whether it is indeed easier to obtain H1B / green card as an academic than as a PhD-holding employee? My industry-relevant skill-set is statistical training and programming.

While this question has far-reaching relevance for any typical international PhD students, I would also be willing to give more details regarding my training, my school reputation, etc. if it helps answering the question.

P/S: This is throwaway account for anonymity. I have been an avid user of StackExchange and would love your input.

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    This question seems more about immigration law than academics. That said, I have an answer for it, but I'm happy to remove mine and close if the community deems it so. – Suresh Apr 10 '14 at 1:12
  • I am aware of the legal process but unsure about the relative ease in real life of obtaining H1B / greencard as an academic. Hence this question is better answered by academics / PhDs who have gone industry than by a lawyer – Aaron Apr 10 '14 at 2:25
  • What does your current university/acad institution say? Did you get in touch with the immigration attorney which many universities have on retainer? – dearN Apr 13 '14 at 14:25
  • I think that the answer to this for academics per se is very different from most others, therefore I think this is an appropriate venue for it. – Superbest May 24 '14 at 2:55
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First of all, IANAL.

The H1B process requires a declaration from the employer that the skill set provided by the candidate cannot be found within the US. This is typically not too hard to satisfy, and is required regardless of whether you're in academia or in private industry.

The Green card process can change dramatically depending on which process you use. Academics will typically go through what is execrably called the 'Outstanding Researcher' process, which awards a green card based on scholarly excellence. But Ph.Ds in private industry also go through this process (I did!). It really depends on the willingness of the employer (because of the legal processing involved).

The alternative is to go through the "regular" advanced degree process, which has different qualification requirements and has a different queue/wait time. Arguably, this could take longer, and I don't think academics ever go through this.

So the bottom line is: it depends on the employer, but there's a technical sense in which being an academic can help slightly.

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  • So given all these articles I read on the NYTimes about the tech industry complaining that there's not enough quota, you think that it's relatively easy to obtain one when working in industry? – Aaron Apr 10 '14 at 2:26
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    It depends on the industry, the location, and other factors. From what I've heard, getting an H1B in tech is still relatively easy. But that's in tech. – Suresh Apr 10 '14 at 5:45
  • I believe that H1B visas for faculty are not subject to the annual cap on the total number of H1B visas (at least they weren't in past years when this was a significant issue in hiring faculty in our department.) – Brian Borchers Feb 21 '15 at 18:32
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    @Suresh when you said "Outstanding Researcher" process, do you mean EB-1 visa? Also, how good is good enough for EB-1? Let me know if I should post this as a separate question. Thanks. – user119361 Mar 10 at 18:21
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My understanding is that Universities and other academic insitutions (for example, the research hospital in which I work) are not subjected to caps on the H1B that companies are so it should be easier to get one if you follow the academic route.

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    you are right ,all non profit institutions are exempt from H1B cap. – Boncek35 Apr 13 '14 at 21:37
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    But not all universities are non-profit (but they're probably not the kind to sponsor an H1B). – Jeremy Miles Apr 14 '14 at 5:40
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The Green Card is a different matter, but for an H-1B: It is indeed easier.

There is a cap for the number of H-1Bs awarded every year. The cap for 2013 was 85,000, and 124,000 people applied. When too many applications are eligible, assignment is made by lottery.

However, non-profits are not subject to caps, and universities count as non-profits. See: http://internationaloffice.berkeley.edu/h-1b_faqs#10

It is probably not easier in the sense that the employer follows the same procedure and pays the same fees. However, there is no risk of not receiving an H-1B that you are perfectly well qualified for due to the cap. Also, universities are more likely to have access to people who know the process, unlike small companies which may be overwhelmed by the paperwork and byzantine regulations (especially if you are their first international employee).

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  • @ff524 Even though you rejected the edit pertaining to this, it looks like I was in fact wrong. The number of applications is not on the order of a million: Last 2 years were 134k and 124k, while 2014 predictions were 160k, the record being 201k in 2001. – Superbest Sep 15 '14 at 22:17

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