artificial intelligence adviser

Overcoming H-1B Hurdles: Alternative Visa Strategies for Skilled Foreign Workers

In the competitive world of U.S. immigration, many highly skilled professionals find themselves at a crossroads due to restrictive policies and protracted wait times. This has been vividly illustrated by the journey of Aishwarya Srinivasan, a senior artificial intelligence adviser at Microsoft, who initially pursued an H-1B visa, only to face repeated challenges that steered her towards an alternative and ultimately more promising path.

Srinivasan’s saga began with her winning the H-1B visa lottery on her third attempt in 2021—a feat in itself given the stringent annual cap of 85,000 visas, with 20,000 reserved for those with advanced degrees. However, the uncertainty of obtaining a green card through this route, compounded by the prolonged backlog, especially for Indian nationals, prompted her to explore other avenues.

Recognizing the potential decades-long wait for permanent residency, Srinivasan and her partner, also a lottery winner, considered marriage to secure a spousal H-4 visa, which would allow her to work in the U.S. However, the pressure of these discussions and the looming uncertainty propelled her to look for more viable alternatives.

Her exceptional skills in data science, evidenced by her significant contributions to IBM and Google prior to joining Microsoft, positioned her well for an EB-1 visa, designated for immigrants with extraordinary abilities. Srinivasan's efforts in the field, including collaborative projects, publications, and a patent on reinforcement learning models for stock trading, underscored her qualifications for this category. In 2023, she advanced to the green card interview stage, marking a significant milestone in her immigration journey.

The EB-1 visa process, while rigorous, proved to be a faster route for Srinivasan compared to the H-1B, highlighting a critical shift in strategy for many immigrants facing similar hurdles. This shift is not just about seeking alternatives but about excelling in one’s field to such an extent that the extraordinary ability can be clearly demonstrated and recognized.

Immigration attorneys and experts emphasize the importance of proactive planning and skill enhancement for foreign students and professionals aiming for U.S. residency. As highlighted by Dobrina Ustun, Srinivasan's lawyer, and Kathleen Campbell Walker, a partner at Dickinson Wright PLLC, pursuing degrees in STEM fields or Schedule A occupations—such as physical therapists and nurses—can expedite the green card process by bypassing the labor certification process.

Moreover, engaging in research and striving for publications in peer-reviewed journals can significantly bolster one's case for an EB-1 visa. Understanding the extensive criteria listed in the USCIS policy manual for proving extraordinary ability is crucial for anyone navigating this complex landscape.

The narrative of Srinivasan is a beacon for many in the international community, illustrating that while the H-1B visa remains a gateway for many skilled workers, it is not the only path to success and stability in the U.S. For those like Gabriel Castro, a senior associate at Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP, the message is clear: going beyond the minimum requirements and showcasing one’s prominence through external evidence can pivot the odds in one's favor, ensuring recognition by U.S. immigration authorities.

This strategic shift not only aids individuals like Srinivasan and Shantanu Joshi, another EB-1 recipient but also serves the broader U.S. interest by retaining top global talent essential for maintaining the country's competitive edge in technology and innovation.

As we observe the evolving landscape of U.S. immigration, the experiences of these skilled professionals underscore a vital lesson: flexibility, excellence, and informed decision-making are key to navigating the intricate paths of immigration policies and achieving one's American dream.


"Ditching H-1Bs, Foreigners Hone Skills To Get Visas Faster" by Britain Eakin, Law360, published on April 24, 2024.

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