I’ve stated many times that the H-1B work visa should be reserved for “the Best and the Brightest.” Thus I read with keen interest the New York Times article, “Is Anyone Good Enough for an H1-B Visa?,” by a foreign student from China. The final paragraph is typical of the sense of entitlement I see so often among foreign students these days:
As I make plans to go back to China, I find myself wondering: If I am not qualified to stay in the United States, then who is?
Ms. Yu may well be among the Best and the Brightest, what with her degrees from Oxford and Stanford. But I must admit to some skepticism. Even if you speak no Chinese, you’ve probably heard the word guanxi, literally meaning relationship but of course actually meaning connections that one can exploit. I know that guanxi sometimes plays a big role in building up impressive re’sume’s. And as you will see, on one key aspect of her claim, I am more than just skeptical.
Yu mentions that she has a letter of recommendation from a Nobel laureate. Nice, but how did that arise? Many years ago I chaired my department’s graduate admissions committee. One day I received a phone call from a Nobel laureate in support of an applicant whose record was quite mediocre. The caller did have a connection to UC Davis, so he needed to be taken seriously, and frankly, I was rather naive at the time. We did admit the applicant, and she did mediocre work. It turned out later that the caller was an old friend of the applicant’s father, who was in a prominent position in China. Lesson learned for me.
The Nobel claim may allude to the fact that a co-founder of Yu’s company is the recipient of a different prize, a nice one, but far from the Nobel. If so, Yu’s claim is unconscionable.
Ms. Yu’s LinkedIn page has no endorsements from Nobelists. Quite the contrary, the only recommendation she has is from a former mentor who says simply, “Smart determined and hard working,” hardly the phrasing one would use for the Best and the Brightest.
Yu claims to be an expert in artificial intelligence and big data. Here I will go further than mere skepticism, and say that this would be almost impossible given her complete lack of technical background, which is entirely in law and business. I am unable to find any research publications in the field by her. None of her various online bios mentions AI or big data, She may well have taken a class or two during her MBA, but even then, it would not justify her claim to be an expert in the field. This is key, because Yu is complaining that she was turned down for a visa that she feels she deserves because of her expertise in this field.
Yu also claims to be returning to China. and given the theme of her piece, the message is that the U.S. has just lost a top talent. But I will be very surprised if she doesn’t return to the U.S. permanently within the next few months. I’ve been fooled by such statements before as well.
I really do believe in facilitating the immigration of the Best and the Brightest. I have publicly supported liberalizing the two main related aspects of immigration law, the O-1 work visa and the National Interest Waiver for green cards. I’ve acted on that conviction on various occasions, including actively promoting the hiring of faculty colleagues whom I felt were outstanding talents. In two cases, one Chinese and the other Indian, originally my department wanted to hire someone else but I convinced my colleagues to hire these two outstanding applicants. I’ve helped top foreign students get jobs in Silicon Valley, and a couple of years ago, I wrote a very strong letter supporting a certain foreign national for the O-1. He got it, and is now working down the road from Ms. Yu.
If Yu had claimed that she is a brilliant expert in international law, and used her Oxford and Stanford credentials to support the claim, I might still have a bit of doubt, but I would have accepted it. But I must say I am troubled by her case.