PhD students Olaitan Olaleye, Stefan Dickers, Eva París-Huesca came to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst from all over the world; but they share a common dream; to continue their stay in the United States after obtaining their degrees- a dream in conflict with federal immigration laws.
Over fifty people gather in Room 908 of the UMass Campus Center to listen carefully to Megan Kludt, a lawyer who specializes in immigration law. The immigration workshop, Sponsored by GEO, International Students’ Caucus, Dean of Students Office, Center for Women & Community and Student Legal Services Office, has its little success through the Umass students and researchers. Whether they are Asian, African, European or South American, they all have a question that keeps going around in their heads since they have began studying in the U.S.: “How can I legally stay?”
Olaitan Olaleye, a 30 year-old Nigerian, is wondering how he could, at the end of his student visa, stay to work in the U.S. He has been at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst for two years pursuing his master and doctorate in industrial engineering. He wants to know how to continue to live where he is receiving his education.
Being in the U.S. has not always been his dream but he really appreciates the high standard of living in the Valley: “I am not crazy about the U.S. but I can see myself living here. I can obtain a better education and a good work experience. I also feel very secure here, which is different from Nigeria.”
The German UMass PhD student Stefan Dickers sees also the multitude of possibilities that offers the U.S.: “There are lots of opportunities. I could have a career in Europe but I feel like it is easier in the U.S. One of my friends in Germany has a really hard time finding a job, even with all her qualifications.”
Stephen has already found a job as he finishes his thesis in nanotechnology. In January, he is going to work in Oregon for the international corporation Intel.
Eva París-Huesca, 35, from Spain, is also a PhD student at the University. She is currently teaching an Introduction to Catalan class, and she has a teaching associateship at UMass.
“I have spent my last twelve years working and studying in a U.S higher institution and my goal after I graduate is to have the opportunity to be part of this commitment to excellence in research and education, she said.
Massachusetts: An Immigrant-Friendly Place
Despite the difficult economic situation, the U.S. is still one of the most attractive countries for immigration. According to Senior Lecturer in Sociology C.N. Le, who specializes in immigration at the University of Massachusetts, “The U.S. still offers potential immigrants the best combination of opportunities and resources to improve their lives, and for their later generations. Part of it is also because due to earlier patterns of immigration, the U.S. already contains relatively large numbers of ethnic or nationality groups with whom potential immigrants can integrate into.“
The state of Massachusetts seems to be especially welcoming with immigration compared to the national level. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of persons obtaining legal permanent resident status has increased only about 0.30 % in the U.S. whereas the state of Massachusetts has welcomed 2.24 % more green card holders in the last ten years.“ The state of Massachusetts and the Connecticut River Valley in particular has a reputation for being much more liberal, and therefore more welcoming of immigrants, than on the national level,” sociologist C.N. Le said.
Get an education and go away
Olaitan, Stefan and Eva have almost obtained all of their higher education in the U.S., which is sometimes fully paid by the university. However, staying and working where they studied is not a foregone conclusion, as they do not automatically obtain a work permit.
Stephan is the only lucky one; two years ago, he won the green card lottery, which has allowed him to stay legally in the U.S. So far, Olaitan and Eva have not had this sort of luck. “I don’t have a green card, but as soon as a get a full-time job as a professor I will try to apply for it. I know I can apply for it anytime but the chances of getting it would be very difficult, ” Eva said.
Megan Kludt explained that difficulties are not recent and are a direct result of the 9/11 event: “ U.S. law has grown increasingly restrictive on immigration for several decades now. In 1996, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IRIIRA) and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which both created many more grounds of deportability and inadmissibility.”
The only advice that Megan Kludt could give to the PhD student is to hope that some universities may graciously employ them someday. However, they can get a post-doctorate to become eligible for permanent sponsorship after many years working at their university. The lawyer said that she also works with “many post-docs on self-sponsorship, either based on their “extraordinary ability” in their field, or based on their continuing influence on and potential contributions to a field of importance to the United States.”
In the end, it seems that people who want to immigrate have only two different ways of doing so; be lucky or be extraordinary.
 From 2011 yearbook of immigration report published by Homeland Security.