By Chiara Bertipaglia, CUPS
Jaime Jurado, INet NYC
Advisory team of ECUSA-NYC
On Wednesday May 17th the Columbia University Postdoctoral Society organized an Info Session about Immigration at Columbia University. The event was co-organized by Columbia University Postdoctoral Society (CUPS), INet NYC, ECUSA (Spanish Scientists in USA), Einstein Postdoctoral Association (EPA), Postdoc Executive Committee at ISMMS and co-sponsored by Columbia University Postdoctoral Society (CUPS), Columbia University Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA), Rockefeller University Dean's Office, NYU School of Medicine Postdoctoral Affairs through their BEST grant and Graduate School of Medical Sciences (at Weill Cornell Medicine) Postdoctoral Affair office.The idea was to provide the large community of New York postdocs with information on how to transition from non-immigrant to permanent resident status, or immigrant, in the United States.
The event got fully booked within 24 hours. The massive attendance of 185 people from 9 different institutions (Columbia University, Cornell University, NYU, Mount Sinai, Albert Einstein, The Rockefeller University, CUNY, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Rutgers, among others) speaks loud and clear about the discomfort of the time that we are living and the uncertainties that we, the international scientific community, face here in the United States.
Research in the U.S. is carried out and progresses thanks to many outstanding international PhD students, Postdocs and associate researchers on non-immigrant visas, who seek to become permanent residents to be able to stay and do the their best Science. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the current number of international scientists and engineers in the U.S. workforce is estimated to be 5.2 millions, constituting almost 20% of the sector. This number has increased 2.5 fold in just the last decade.
The session started with a presentation about the main categories of visa given by attorney Aviva Meerschwam from Fragomen. Then, a panel of researchers that have successfully applied for and obtained an H-1B visa or a Green Card introduced their case and answered questions collected from the public, discussing the alternatives that students and postdocs have to apply for permanent residency.
- Sophie Colombo, from Columbia University, H-1B (academic, professional);
- Kiran Kumar Andra, from Cornell University, EB-1A Green Card (obtained with the help of a lawyer);
- Hourinaz Behesti, from The Rockfeller University, EB-1B Green Card (obtained without the help of a lawyer);
- Chamara Senevirathne, from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, EB-2 Green Card (obtained without the help of a lawyer);
- Wissam Hamou, from Mount Sinai, EB-2 Green Card (obtained with the help of a lawyer);
- Alicia Perez-Porro, from the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, Green Card through marriage (with a pro-bono lawyer);
- Jose Ignacio Garzón, from Columbia University, Green Card through lottery.
The session was broadcasted live for people who could not attend and the video can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IR9_-vvWQIQ
Let’s summarize the information gathered during the meeting.
The status of non-immigrants is for foreign nationals that come to the U.S. temporarily and keep their residence abroad. In the field of academic research, common categories of visas include:
F-1 visa is available to foreign nationals entering the USA for academic studies and are eligible to work 12 months under the Optional Practical Training (OPT), either pre- or post-graduation in the field related to their studies. STEM degrees students may apply for a 24-months extension.
J-1 visa allows foreign nationals to participate in an approved exchange program to gain experience, study or do research in their field. Examples of exchange visitors include, but are not limited to, trainees, interns, teachers, professors, research scholars, specialists, students and foreign medical graduates.
H-1B visa types are open to professionals that work in a “specialty occupation” and are going to remain in the U.S. for a minimum of 6 years. 65,000 H-1B visas can be issued annually, beginning each year on April 1st. However, certain employers are exempt from this quota (e.g. non-profit and governmental research organizations). Premium processing for this visa type have been temporarily suspended under the current administration.
O-1 visas are open to foreign nationals of extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, arts, business or athletics. Applicants have to meet certain requirements such as:
Most of foreign Postdocs enter the U.S. with a J-1 visa, stay for 5 years and then shift to a H-1B type of visa for another 6 years. This can be done as long as they remain in academia. Eventually, as non-immigrants, they may decide to pursue the status of permanent residence while in the U.S. territory. Many do it because they do not want to deal with visa bureaucracy and paperwork every few years. Plus, being a permanent resident is definitely an advantage when transitioning from academia to industry. This change of status from non-immigrant to permanent resident can be done either from an F-1, J-1 or an H-1B visa.
The way to become a permanent resident, or immigrant, is by obtaining a Green Card.
A maximum of 650,000 Green Cards can be given each year, and they are distributed through the following different application processes:
The employment based Green Card application is a two or three-step process, where the applicant needs to provide:
The employment based Green Card categories are:
The EB-1 category is subdivided into:
The EB-2 category is subdivided into:
The EB-3 category is subdivided into:
For further information on the various Green Card categories, you can also check www.uscis.gov.
The audience asked lots of questions to the panelists. We have summarized their answers, at times commented by the attorney.
Q1: Can J-1 or F-1 visa holders adjust their status to immigrant?
A1: Yes, J-1 and F-1 visa holders can apply for a Green Card while in the United States. Nevertheless, they may have a travel restriction upon filing a petition application to change or adjust status. Moreover, some J visa holders might be subjected to the 2 years rule, which means that they must return to their home country for 2 years after completion of program, before seeking another non-immigrant visa category or permanent residence. Also, since F-1 is not a dual-intent visa category (i.e. it does not permit immigrant intent), there are certain restrictions related to traveling while the application is pending and to the timing for filing the application, which must be carefully considered. As such, it would be advisable to consult with a lawyer before proceeding with a Green Card application while in F-1 status.
Q2: Can one apply for J-1 visa when the current visa is F-1?
A2: Yes, you can move from a F-1 to a J-1. However, the applicant needs to meet the following requirements:
Q3: What are the requirements for EB-1?
A3: There are 10 criteria to demonstrate extraordinary ability in your field. Applicants must meet 3 of these requirements or provide evidence of a one-time achievement (i.e., Pulitzer, Oscar, Olympic Medal).
Q4: How does one meet the scientific standards required to apply for the EB-1?
A4: There are no minimal requirements (no minimum number of research or review papers). It is crucial to highlight how your achievements have had a great impact on the American society and internationally. Therefore, more than the number of publications, you may want to highlight how your research has been cited or disseminated. Also, non-scientists will read and evaluate the paperwork, so avoid jargon and technicalities and go straight to the point of why your work matters.
Q5: Can O-1 visa be self-sponsored?
A5: No, you need an employer or an agent who will act as a sponsor/petitioner.
Q6: How many recommendation letters is it advisable to submit?
A6: Between 5 and 10 letters of recommendation. It is better if the letters do not come from your past boss or supervisor, but are rather signed by third parties or your future boss. It is crucial to follow the template when writing these letters, which can be crafted also by the lawyers. Hiring lawyers with a science background may help (as it happened to one of the panelists). Sometimes this turns out to be the best option because the right content will be conveyed through the right amount of bureaucratic language.
Q7: What happens if the current visa expires while you are in the process of applying for a Green Card or H-1B visas?
A7: When you apply for a Green Card or H-1B visas, it is also strongly advisable to apply at the same time for an Employment Authorization (Form I-765) combined with a Travel Document (Form I-131). It allows you to work and travel even if your current visa status expires.
Q8: Is it allowed to switch jobs while filing a Green Card or H-1B application?
A8: Since this will most likely imply a change in sponsor, it is not advisable to do so. It is definitely advisable to keep the same employer (= sponsor) through the whole application process.
Q9: Can one apply for multiple Green Card categories at the same time?
A9: It is possible but not advisable.
Q10: How much does the whole application process cost?
A10: The panelists reported the following experiences:
- $13,000, for 1 person + spouse, with the help of a lawyer;
- $7,000, for 1 person, with a lawyer;
- $1,800, for a spouse of a US citizen, with the help of a pro-bono lawyer;
- $2,800, for 1 person, with the application managed by herself, without the help of any lawyer. This included the option of faster processing request (Form I-907) which costs $1,225;
- $1,500 for the lottery process.
Some lawyers refund you half of the costs if the application is not successful.
Q11: How long does it take to get a Green Card, depending on the different categories?
A11: It is slower to obtain one of the EB-1 Green Card types than one of the EB-2 or EB-3 types. According to the historical average processing times, the government processing time for the EB-1 visa is about 6 months. Once the EB-1 has been approved, the government takes additional time to issue permanent residence. According to the panelists, the whole application process took up to 18, 9 or 6 months when applying for employment, family or lottery-based categories respectively. The premium service shortens the processing decision down to 15 calendar days.
Q12: Can you switch to industry or a different postdoc if you have an academic position-related H-1B?
A12: No, you can’t with the same H-1B. If you have an H-1B visa and you want change your employer (which could be a different academic group leader or an industry employer), you also have to change your visa. However, the applicant can apply for a H-1B visa transfer, which allows to start working for the new employer as soon as the H-1B transfer petition is submitted, without having to wait until the transfer is issued. This is the list of the required documents when issuing an H-1B visa transfer:
Q13: Are O-3/O-1 and H-4/H-1B dependents respectively allowed to work?
A13: Different from J-2 (J-1 dependents), O-3/H-4 are not eligible. However, H-4 can apply for permission to work only when a permanent residency petition, based on the H-1B’s employment, has been pending for a year or more.
Q14: Is it worth it responding to Request for Evidence (RFE) for the EB-1A Green Card or is it better to apply again?
A14: RFE is requested from USCIS when a petition is lacking initial documentation or the officer needs additional evidence. The petitioner should respond to the RFE usually in 30 days and will receive a status case respond in 60 days. Keep in mind that USCIS is perfectly able to deny any immigration application without first issuing RFEs, so this might be your last chance to prove what they have asked. Here you will find more information about this process.
Q16: How can you apply for Green Card without a lawyer?
A16: Panelist Hourinaz Behesti applied for EB-1B without a lawyer and shared her experience. Being EB-1B an employment-based Green Card, the employer (i.e., the University) was the “Petitioner”. The applicant was the “Beneficiary”. Applicants need to have a title other than “postdoctoral fellow/associate” as the USCIS does not recognize “Postdoc” as a permanent position. However, a transition to “Research Associate”, for example after the postdoc position, is considered a permanent position. The employer has to write the cover letter based on material provided by the applicant and has to fill out the forms. On the USCIS webpage, all relevant forms can be downloaded in the “forms” tab. Here is the EB-1B forms checklist:
Q17: As a scientist/researcher, would it make sense to apply for EB-1, EB-2 or EB-3 types of Green Card?
A17: EB-3 is for professionals, skilled workers and other workers, which could certainly include scientists/researchers. However, since scientists/researchers usually have advanced degrees and good credentials, it would be more appropriate for them to apply for EB-1 or EB-2 rather than an EB-3.
Q18: Who is eligible to obtain a Green Card through family?
A18: The following categories are eligible:
The author Inna Bakman-Sanchez is a PhD Candidate in Biochemistry at Brooklyn College and CUNY’s Institutional Representative of INet NYC. Inna can be reached at: email@example.com
By Inna Bakman-Sanchez
Edited by Gayathri Devi Raghupathy
Finding a good career mentor is very important and yet at times we take it for granted. Career mentors have valuable experience and can help guide and advise you on your career path, establish clear and achievable goals, teach you how to overcome challenges in your field of work, as well as introduce you to the right people. For international students, such as myself, finding the right mentor can be priceless. Having come to a new country to pursue a PhD in the STEM fields, far from all things familiar and comfortable, sometimes you may find yourself overwhelmed by the language, culture, work demands, and lack of connections. Without guidance and help, it's far more challenging to discover all the great career opportunities that await outside academia.
So, how do you find a mentor? Your PI can answer some of your career related questions, but if they are not international or if your questions are not necessarily in their zone of expertise, there is a small but an important gap that needs to be filled.
I decided that first step will be to go to the event hosted by INet NYC with collaboration with the Science Alliance of the New York Academy of Sciences - “Success Stories in Non-Academic Career Tracks: Overcoming the Barriers of an International Scientist in the USA". The major point that was made by the speakers was the importance of a career mentor and how that helped them to pursue and achieve their high positions outside academia, either as a science journalist, patent lawyer, consultant, pharmaceutical industry position, and more. At that event, I also learnt about the INet NYC Mentor-Mentee program.
I am glad to have had the opportunity to be a mentee at the INet NYC Mentor-Mentee Program.
At first, I hesitated to partake in the program since one of the guidelines was to know what I want to do after my PhD. The goal of this information was to match you with the right mentor. But what if I don’t really know what I want to do? Having a career mentor pushed me to do some soul searching and to be honest with myself about what I am passionate about and what will make me happy even if that is not directly related to what I am doing right now.
My mentor, Dr. Roberta Marongiu, an assistant Professor of Neuroscience in Neurological Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine/NYP hospital, does research on developing novel gene therapy approaches for Parkinson’s disease. She moved to NYC from Rome, Italy where she did her PhD in Medical Genetics and Neuroscience. Even though our research interests are different, we were able to connect on a personal level - we could relate to the challenges of being foreign in the US. Having open conversations with my mentor allowed me to learn that sometimes your path is not clear right away, but with an open mind you may fall into research that you never thought would interest you, yet surprisingly grow to love and find success. The most inspiring moment for me was learning about my mentor's achievement in organizing a non-profit organization that combines both her passion for boxing and the fight against Parkinson’s disease - stoPD. Her example has inspired me (more than I can give credit to it in this post) to consider my own joy in the practice of painting, photography and working with children in the sciences, as well as the wonderful potential in combining these activities into an ideal career.
Next, I wondered whether there are other ways to still be a scientist and educator in the US without going through a post-doctoral training or dealing with limited OPT. Dr.Marongiu’s perspective was that it is preferable to do at least one post-doctoral research in order to take up more responsibilities, be more independent, extend your network and potential collaborators for the future. One key point is to put a strict deadline of two years to the length of that position. Since I am interested in teaching and working with the youth, my mentor recommended me to look for positions as a post-doc at universities and community colleges that have undergraduate programs rather than graduate-research programs or medical-research colleges.
Following my mentors’ advice, I took immediate action in finding volunteer programs and grants that will strengthen my resume as a science educator. Ultimately, my time with her so far has been transformative in coming to terms with what I could be passionate about and what work makes me happy, regardless of its relevance to what I am currently doing.
It is important to remember that a career mentor is one of the best tools at your disposal to figure out and navigate your future. Sometimes you may need only two or three meetings before you are looking in the right direction. It could also be a longer process that requires opening up, exploring, researching, and deciding on a path. Our relationship has run for several months so far, extending beyond the program’s pairing, since a mentor cannot simply help you forge your career overnight. I connect with my mentor primarily via email and phone conversations.
Should you apply for the mentor-mentee program even if you know exactly what you want and know how to get it? Definitely yes! Should you do so if you are completely lost? I believe that in order to benefit the most from this program, you should have some idea about what career paths excite you. Thus, considering this program presents a great opportunity to pause for a moment and envision your future self. Don't be shy to have open and productive conversations. Remember to have fun and, when you've found what you're looking for, to pay the service forward.
By Gayathri Raghupathy | Doctoral candidate in Biology at CUNY Hunter College
Edited by Tessa Barrett
I have to say that I am quite lucky to catch someone who commutes roughly 83 miles a day, NYC—Westchester—NJ—NYC!! I immensely thank Roshni Ghosh for generously sitting down with me at my favorite coffee place for a good 2 hours.
Roshni received her PhD in Developmental Genetics from St. Johns University, NY and is currently a patent agent at Regeneron while also working towards her JD at Seton Hall University.
What motivated you to look outside bench work?
A whole bunch of failed experiments! I started attending events and conferences to learn about career options that did not deal with bench work.
How did you get interested in patent law?
The first time I heard about patenting was at a NYAS (New York Academy of Sciences) event. I learnt how scientific skillsets could be transferred to the field of patenting, and that you are still connected to science in a way.
How did you pursue your interest in patent law?
To get a better understanding of the field, I searched for an internship opportunity in patent office and technology transfer office at my University. I also made a list of patent agents with a science background in the NYC region and sent out cold-emails. In fact, some of them replied and I connected with them for informational interviews.
Did you enroll in any courses or internships to learn more about patent law?
In the last year of my PhD, I enrolled in a certificate program in intellectual property (IP) at NYU. I also landed an internship opportunity at a technology transfer office in Albany. Yes, I was juggling between wrapping up experiments, writing my thesis, a manuscript, IP coursework and internship.
Tell us about how you managed to undertake an internship and wrap up your PhD studies.
My first internship was at a technology transfer office in Albany, NY. I was able to work remotely from NYC on a case for a client who wanted to license and market a product. I identified a product best suited to their need, identified the assignee of the patent and negotiated the license of the patent while working with a cross functional team. I also did an internship at the NY Blood Center, identifying potential licensees for their technologies. Overall, as a voracious reader, I had fun reading and digging information related to that project on patent websites. That was when I realized that this was a career path that I would really enjoy!
When did you start applying for full time jobs?
Towards the completion of my PhD program, I started searching positions with the patent field, and that’s when I came across a Regeneron job posting for a patent agent with a background in science. In preparation for the interview at Regeneron, I set up mock interviews with mentors from my internship. Some of the important aspects that they stressed were how to negotiate compensation and how to ask good questions during the interview.
What was your interview experience at Regeneron like?
Most of the questions asked were about my internship experiences and my coursework at NYU. I remember one of the interviewers asking me, “are you sure that you want to do this?” a question that I was asking myself for quite sometime was now being asked aloud by someone else. As an assertion to my own inner voice, I confidently said, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do’, and now there has been no looking back…..
Explain what you do at Regeneron as a patent agent.
I wear several hats within the patent ‘world’; broadly divided into patent research, surveillance, drafting new patent applications and inventor interviews, all which require a lot of paper work! I also perform competitive intelligence for new molecular targets. For instance, if our R&D team was interested in pursuing a new cancer target, I would research the current patent landscape to find out which companies currently hold patents in the field and their patent portfolio. The research aspect of my work keeps me touch with the trending science.
Tell us about the patent department at Regeneron.
When I joined the patent team there were 8 members, in the last year we’ve expanded to more than 20. Almost all the agents at Regeneron have a PhD and post-doctoral experience.
What is it about the patenting field that excites you?
During my PhD, I realized I didn’t enjoy bench work; however I loved reading articles, identifying problems and designing solutions. As a patent agent I am able to transfer those skillsets and interests to my cases. I’m an introvert, I love reading, and I can sit for hours in front of the computer. But at the same time, to break my routine, I get to conduct interviews and communicate my findings to my team. As a patent agent at Regeneron, I have front row seats to see some cutting edge science and technology.
What is your next big move?
Recently, I passed the patent bar exam but I couldn’t stop there, so I’ve enrolled to law school (Seton Hall University of Law, NJ) to get my law degree. While you don’t necessarily need a law degree to get into patenting, in the future I’d like to become a patent attorney. So, I’m back juggling between work, law school and of course the long commute….
What is your advice for our readers who want to pursue patenting?
-Enroll in courses related to patenting (courses-NYU SCPS, WIPO, certificate programs)
-Search for internships at technology transfer offices (talk to someone at your University technology transfer office)
- Set up informational interviews with those in patent roles
-Register for relevant events/conferences
You Are Not Alone Series continued... "Sharpen Your Professional Writing Swordsmanship" -By Yue Liu
By Yue Liu | Doctoral Candidate in Biology at CUNY Hunter College.
Edited by Tessa Barrett
You Are Not Alone series: If you are an international student or a post-doctoral fellow in the USA and feel isolated, confused, or misunderstood, you are not alone. This is a continuation in a series that explores common challenges faced by international students.
Sharpen Your Professional Writing Swordsmanship
Writing in English is unquestionably one of the major challenges international students must conquer. Professional writing, especially scientific writing, is particularly challenging, due to the requirements for clarity, accessibility, and accuracy. The first step in becoming competent in professional writing is to sharpen your writing skills. But how can we do it given our tight schedules, limited funds, and intimidating academic requirements? The following is a range of options arranged by accessibility, depending on your skill level, from which international students can choose:
Read Quality Materials on a Daily Basis
Nobody can become a good writer without reading. A benefit of intensive reading is the broadening of our working vocabulary. Besides understanding every single word within various contexts, Monica Thorn, a very organized and encouraging English tutor at Hunter College, suggests comparing a group of related words such as synonyms and antonyms from a thesaurus every day. Personally, I have signed up to receive the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day. I also recommend an affordable and portable book, Merriam-Webster’s Vocabulary Builder, which is organized by word-building roots. Thorn also recommends devoting 15 minutes per day to reading quality materials, such as The New Yorker, The New York Times (many universities provide free access), Wired, The Economist, and so on. In addition to building vocabulary, Dr. Kate Gao (a scientific editor at Nature Communications) believes reading not only brings great pleasure but also inspires us to generate our own beautiful stories. Dr. Gao suggests reading several great writers to progressively internalize their ways of storytelling to develop one’s own unique writing style.
Read and Analyze Well-written Scientific Articles
We usually read scientific articles for research, but how often do we pay attention to their logic and sentence structure? Does the article present an engaging argument like telling a captivating story? Dr. Gao suggests reading well-written scientific articles and learning how to organize data logically, precisely, and compellingly. Moreover, closely comparing one’s first draft of a research paper with the final version will help us find the areas that need improvement.
Get Free Assistance from the Reading and Writing Center at Your Institution
Most institutions provide free materials and one-on-one tutoring for students to develop fundamental reading and writing skills through Reading and Writing Centers. I met Thorn at the Reading and Writing Center at Hunter College. However, the levels and styles of tutors are quite different, and it may take time to find a good match. In addition to tutoring, you can find many useful handouts and resource links on their websites.
Take Writing Classes and Workshops for Free
I have audited writing classes at my institute and learned how to compare various forms of literatures and write critical analyses. For professional science writing, most graduate schools provide free science writing workshops. In addition, we can also take online science writing classes, such as the Writing in the Sciences course offered by Stanford University, as recommended by Dr. Jun Tang (a postdoctoral scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center). Dr. Tang strongly believes that non-native English speakers will become good writers with practice, and suggests reading good resources to absorb the language usage in one’s own writing, as well as writing regularly and revising intensively. .
Get Continuous Feedback from a Good Writer
Dr. Tang also suggests finding a good and patient writer (a friend, an English tutor from a Reading and Writing Center, or a professional writer if you can afford it) to go through your writing (e.g. essays, research proposals, and cover letters). Continuous feedback is key to improving your writing skills. For example, I was very lucky to work with Jane Shmidt (a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at CUNY). Shmidt was very patient and scrupulous in examining my writing. I developed a better sense of logic and realized the importance of organizing the structure. Shmidt gave me two pieces of advice: 1) keep a daily journal to practice writing; and 2) have a reader relay a draft back to the writer, who will then know the parts that require clarification.
Take More Advanced Writing Classes and Workshops
If free resources such as Reading and Writing Centers, auditing classes, and taking online classes do not satisfy your craving for further improvement, there are many more classes and workshops available. Dr. Gao suggests the creative writing classes offered by the Gotham Writers' Workshop (https://www.writingclasses.com/) and the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop (http://sciwrite.org/).
Join Professional Organizations for Writers
Dr. Joan Liebmann-Smith (a consulting writer and editor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) suggests joining organizations such as National Association of Science Writers, Science Writers in New York, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Medical Writers Association, The New York Academy of Sciences, or any other organization related to your field.
Hone Analytical Skills through Editing
Dr. Liebmann-Smith also suggests forming or joining a reading/writing group to analyze and critique each member’s writing. For example, Jordana Lovett (a doctoral candidate at CUNY), who has always been passionate about scientific writing, finds the most satisfying means of improving her writing is to edit other people’s work. The critical reading and editing process trains her mind to write more effectively.
“You don’t succeed as a scientist by getting papers published. You succeed as a scientist by getting them cited. … You succeed when your peers understand your work and use it to motivate their own…. Success, therefore, comes not from writing but from writing effectively.”
Acknowledgement: I am very fortunate to know many great writers who are generous in sharing their valuable experiences with me: Dr. Kate Gao, Dr. Joan Liebmann-Smith, Jordana Lovett, Jane Shmidt, Dr. Jun Tang, and Monica Thorn.
By Jyoti Panta (edited by Tessa Barrett)
By Gayathri Raghupathy (edited by Chrystelle Montagne and Tessa Barrett)
The Exodus of STEM Professionals: Implications for America’s “intellectual capital”- By Ekaterina Taneva
By Jordana Lovett (edited by Tessa Barrett and Gayathri Raghupathy)
By Yue Liu