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updated: 7/18/2014 11:33 AM

American dream out of reach for too many

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  • Pocket Sun

    Pocket Sun

By Pocket Sun

June 2 was my last day of work. It's been only five months since I joined the global marketing team of a respected, multinational technology company based in the Chicago area. As much as I enjoyed working in Schaumburg and looked forward to the opportunities, my time ran out; I am no longer authorized to work in the United States.

People coming and going from their jobs isn't news. My story is a little different. I grew up in a small city in northern China. In high school I scored very well in the International English Language Testing System, and my parents decided to support me to go to college in America. When my classmates were preparing for the Chinese college admissions exam, I took the SAT and scored 800 on the math and was admitted to the College of William & Mary.

Going to William & Mary, quite honestly, was like going on a blind date. Neither my parents nor I had ever visited America, and we did not have much information on the school.

While my friends talked about jobs they wanted when they graduated, I quickly realized that, as an international student, getting hired in the United States would be no small challenge, especially for those without a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degree or an advanced degree. So, to make myself more marketable, Even with a degree in marketing from one of the best undergraduate business programs in the United States, I struggled to find a job. After seeing so many job posts that said "U.S. citizens or permanent residents only," I joked with a friend about setting the record for receiving the most rejection emails after checking the box that said, "Will you now or in the future require work authorization sponsorship?"

After graduating last year and taking up a difficult search to find companies who are willing to sponsor foreign workers for a work visa, I accepted an internship and two part-time jobs before finally landing full-time employment. I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment and belonging. The culture was supportive and diverse. Though I was a long way from home, it all felt familiar. Unfortunately, this was fleeting. In April, my employer filed for an H-1 B visa petition on my behalf. Little did I know that 172,500 other applicants applied for 85,000 visas, all of which were snapped up in less than a week. Because the volume of petitioners is so high, the federal government relies on a lottery system to award visas. Unfortunately, my number wasn't called.

This year, 51 percent of high-skilled applicants were not even considered despite the fact that companies large and small wanted to hire them. My only way to stay in the United States is to apply for graduate schools, in the hope that an advanced degree will help me when I return to the job market. Recently I took the GMAT and scored well, but, as late as it is in the application cycle, my school options are extremely limited.

Despite my setbacks, I continue to believe that what hasn't defeated me makes me stronger. It's been nothing short of an adventure when I think about the distance traveled, literally and figuratively, from my hometown in northern China. Thankfully, I have a short-term plan that I believe will help realize my long-term dream of living, working, becoming a citizen and raising a family in America. Unfortunately, many international students did not have that option and had no choice but to go back to their native countries.

It may sound like a cliché, but the American dream is real, powerful and magnetic to people living overseas. If there is one reason we ought to fix our broken immigration system, it would be for America to stay true to itself when doing so is the exception not the rule.

• Pocket Sun grew up in Dongying, China, and hopes to earn a graduate degree. She lives in Chicago.

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