How Uncertainty Around H-1B Visa Reform Is Affecting MBAs, and Recruiters

by on August 17th, 2017

By Judith Silverman Hodara, Director, Fortuna Admissions.

President Donald Trump’s decision earlier this year to curtail the “expedited option” for H-1B visa processing times—which previously had promised a turnaround time of 15 days at a cost of $1,225—promises to impact many sectors of the global economy in the United States. This includes students who are in the US for their MBA and want to seek employment with the H-1B after graduation. The H-1B visa allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, and has become a critical pipeline for sourcing talent during a time of unprecedented innovation. Currently, 85,000 visas are granted annually through a lottery system, a disincentive for employers as only about 30 percent of applicants receive it.

Workers in the technology sector claim the largest number of H-1B visas, and India currently leads the number of H-1B grantees—almost 70 percent of those awarded over the last decade. At the beginning of July limited expedited service began again, but more Indians in the US are seeking jobs back home in the wake of President Trump’s order. According to Deloitte & Touche, the number of Indians in the US searching for jobs in India went up 10-fold between December 2016 and March 2017. This will not only impact the skilled workforce in the US (particularly in areas of tech), but also business school applications filed by non-US citizens with US work experience.

The current backlog of visas is almost 10 months, and while President Trump has suggested that the change in policy is to reduce the processing backlog, students will need to return to their home countries and wait for their visas to be processed, unable to start their jobs and unsure if they will ultimately be able to. Most MBA students are in the US under a J-1 or F-1 visa, but the H-1B is essential for many aiming to secure post-grad employment in the US.

The policy change not only will impact those who wish to remain in the US for employment after graduation, but those who enter the MBA applicant pool while currently working in the US. Many of these MBA applicants come from technology positions, and seek to augment their skills by strengthening their leadership and management abilities. As a past Acting Director of Admissions at Wharton, I can affirm that many members of our talented applicant pool had come through operations and technology roles on Wall Street or Silicon Valley, and were great candidates for us because they had tremendous exposure to the cutting edge of US innovation and an interest in continuing that engagement after graduation.

These MBA applicants were usually the best and brightest of their home countries, with outstanding undergraduate credentials, and the technical skills needed to receive the H-1B visa. However, the changes will certainly affect this flow of individuals to the two coastal hubs, impacting not only the companies who hired them pre-MBA, but altering the makeup of the applicant pools for the M7 schools as well. It will simply be harder to get here, and the ROI of an MBA may not be as evident to students who, unable to get sponsored for those H-1B visas after graduation, will instead be returning home where salaries are not necessarily commensurate with the price of their education.

Top MBA programs who have in the past sought candidates with true global exposure may instead need to reconsider how the visa process will alter that perception; US experience may simply be harder to come by pre-MBA, and certainly harder to maintain post-MBA.

Will the MBA classes instead have a higher percentage of international students who lack that cross-cultural exposure? It’s unlikely that in the short-term admissions committees will change their minds about the composition of the incoming class, but over the next four years, without the H-1B program supporting the global pipeline of students, they will need to take a long look at how they assess “international exposure” in their applicant pools.

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