How a Chinese Postdoctoral Researcher in the US regrets traveling back Home

Chenyang Li told NATURE how the visa restrictions meted out by the Trump administration affected him during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chenyang Li is a postdoctoral researcher at the Emory University in Atalanta, Georgia where he specializes in Theoretical Chemistry. He obtained his PhD in theoretical chemistry from the University of Georgia in Athens in May, 2015 and proceeded to do a postdoctoral at Emory University

By September of 2019 he successfully renewed his H-1B visa. The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa issued for specialty occupations and has a validity of no more than 6 years. He stated that he had been trying to obtain a faculty position in China as well as in the United States.

He got invited in December, 2019 for a symposium for young scholars at an unnamed University in Beijing and accepted the invitation hoping that it would lead to a job interview. He traveled back to China that month. It would be his visit home in around 18 months and it presented a good opportunity for him to visit his family and loved ones. He had been to China no less than three times during the preceding six years and had never encountered any immigration problems in securing a return visa to the United States.

By the 31st of December he had his visa interview to return to the USA and was a bit shocked by the nature of the questions he was asked at the US consulate. The Visa Officer even asked him if the computer codes from his were profitable. Unfortunately his visa was not cleared before the COVID 19 outbreak in China on the 21st of January, 2020. All visa processed were suspended. He was told by US consular personnel in February of that year that they were actively working on his visa. However, COVID 19 situation exacerbated and the visa bans commenced.

He was not paid by his university for several months after June 2020 given that he had been away from the US for more than 6 months which violates the restriction on the H-1B visa. He was unable to look for work opportunities in the US during that period and because of the pandemic, many universities suspended faculty recruitment. While he maintained contact with his supervisor, he stated that getting a job in China was his most realistic option.

His advice to International researchers in the US is that they should think twice before going back to their home country during periods of uncertainty.

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