CEC Pittsburgh Water Resources Engineer Wais Aria Becomes U.S. Citizen

October 6, 2022

Wais Aria’s journey to CEC’s Pittsburgh office led him criss-crossing all around the globe and along the way, he proudly became a U.S. citizen.

A water resources engineer, Wais spent five years (prior to coming to CEC) completing the process required to become a citizen, culminating with a 100-question test (reading and writing) on history, government and politics. He was officially sworn in as citizen during a naturalization ceremony on July 14.

Wais Aria became a U.S. citizen in July 2022.

His professional path began in his native Afghanistan, where he graduated from Kabul University in 2006 with a degree in civil engineering. The multi-lingual Wais was granted a full scholarship to UNESCO-IHE, Delft, Netherlands, earning a master’s degree in water science and engineering in 2011. He also holds a master’s in natural resources from Virginia Polytechnic State University. He has 15 years of career experience.

He was working on projects with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers on a special immigration visa granted to those doing work with the U.S. government. When he moved to the United States, he did experience culture shock and was not a fan of the heat and humidity of Florida, where he worked for a while.

He moved up north, finding the Pittsburgh weather and landscape was much more to his liking, as it is similar to his homeland. After working for another firm for a bit, Wais was sought out by and joined CEC in February and he is pleased he did.

A place to grow his career

“With CEC’s DMML (Do Manage Market Lead) model, the doors are open for me to grow my career. I’m happy to bring my expertise to CEC. I like the interesting clients and my co-workers,” Wais said. “I want to be a key player in CEC.”

Wais is currently involved in more than 10 projects. “I love the diversity of the projects and gaining an understanding of the different challenges inherent in them.”

“It doesn’t matter where you are from, CEC is out there finding the talent,” he says,

Looking for the best candidate

Drew Campbell, CEC’s Director of Talent Acquisition, wholeheartedly agrees. “We are always looking for the best candidate with a specialized skill set.”

Wais’ story is one of opportunity and perseverance, Drew says. “The perspective those born abroad is unique and valuable.”

While Wais was already well on his way to becoming a U.S. citizen when hired by CEC, others join at various steps in the process.

CEC’s Director of HR Operations & Administration Michelle Kosmach is the point person navigating the sponsorships of foreign nationals wishing to join the firm. She also walks them through the process necessary to secure proper paperwork required to be employed and stay in the U.S. “CEC is very open to the sponsorships,” Michelle adds.

The process is lengthy, and Michelle outlines it here:

F-1 Visa (Student Visa)

F-1 visa students can apply to receive up to 12 months of total OPT (Occupational Practical Training) employment authorization. Students may complete this F-1 visa work in 2 different ways:

  • Pre-completion OPT before completing academic studies. F-1 students must have been enrolled in school for one full academic year and work only part time while school is in session.
  • Post-completion OPT after completing academic studies. F-1 students may work part time (minimum of 20 hours per week) or full time.

Most of the F-1 Visa students that begin working for CEC, are post-completion OPT. 

All periods of pre-completion F-1 visa OPT work will be deducted from the total available 12 months to determine the available post-completion F-1 OPT visa status available for the student. OPT application, F-1 visa work permit and student work visa guidance is usually handled through the student’s university international student office.

USCIS only allows F-1 students to stay unemployed 90 days past their program end date before having to leave the US, so it is important for new graduates that wish to stay in the US to secure employment.

24 Month STEM OPT F1 visa extension

Students that are then employed by CEC are usually allowed to apply for STEM OPT extension.  The STEM OPT extension allows students with certain science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) degrees to apply for a 24-month F1 visa extension to their OPT authorization bringing the total maximum F-1 OPT visa status period to 36 months.

H-1B Lottery

During the time the F-1 Student is working for CEC, we will submit the individual for sponsorship in the H-1B Lottery Registration process.  The opening date of the lottery is early March of each year. The H-1B Lottery arises due to a fixed number of H1B visa slots available (total around 85K) per year for new applicants. If there are more than 85,000 applicants applying for H-1B in a year, then the H-1B Lottery situation arises (it has for the last 9 years). The H-1B lottery is nothing but a “random selection process” used to select the required number of H-1B applicants from a larger pool of applicants. If selected, the individual will be eligible for H-1B sponsorship on Oct. 1 of that year. Depending on the amount of time remaining on a student’s F-1 Visa work authorization, we may have to submit to the lottery multiple times, if they are not selected.


Employees who are granted H-1B visas may only work for the sponsoring U.S. company, although they can switch employers with an H-1B Transfer. 

A worker with a H-1B visa can remain in the U.S. for up to six years. There are exceptions where international employees can extend their stay beyond the six years under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act, or AC21. H-1B employees can extend their visas if they are the beneficiaries of an approved Immigrant Worker Petition (I-140), and cannot file a green card or permanent residency application because their priority date is not current. There is a substantial backlog in priority for particular categories, so the employer can extend the H-1B visa indefinitely until the priority date becomes current.

CPT Work Study

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) gives international students authorization to gain employment training and to work in paid internships positions. Students have a chance to work full time (more than 20 hours per week) or part time (20 hours or less per week) earning money in U.S. dollars and gain work experience in their area of interest while enrolled in an advanced degree program.

CPT must be work training that is necessary to complete a degree program. Not all degree programs will have required CPT, but it’s often found in engineering where students can learn more putting their studies into practice in the workplace.

Individuals who are not selected in the H-1B lottery that are nearing the end of their OPT often enroll in an advanced degree program that allows them time to work under CPT.

Green Card

Foreign nationals can receive an employment-based green card if they have a job offer from a firm with U.S. headquarters or they can demonstrate that they have what is referred to as “exceptional ability” to move to the U.S. and further their career.

Steps involved in the green card process:

  • Labor Certification/PERM
  • I-140 Immigration Petition
  • I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status (final step)
    • The final step of the process can take more than 10 years.




About the Author

CEC Staff

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. (CEC) provides comprehensive market-oriented consulting services to advance client strategic business objectives. CEC is recognized for delivering innovative design solutions and integrated expertise in air quality, civil engineering, ecological sciences, environmental engineering and sciences, manufacturing infrastructure services, survey/geospatial, waste management, and water resources.

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