International students face employment hurdles
By Sherrie Choong
Graduating from college should be an exciting and happy moment. However, that has not been the case for me as an international student. I speak four different languages, spent tens of thousands in tuition and worked diligently. And yet job hunting remains extremely stressful and frustrating.
Getting a job in the United States is a dream for many international students. However, the job-hunting process for international students is filled with financial and legal obstacles, compared to their American classmates. On average, international students at Northeastern University spend three months applying and interviewing before securing employment.
After graduation, international students are eligible to apply for optional practical training, which allows them to work legally in the United States for a year. Students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are eligible for the STEM program, which is 17-month OPT extension.
During the OPT period, international students have a three-month time limit to find employment. After the OPT period ends, employers must sponsor the student for an H-1B work visa for him or her to remain in the States. Sponsorship is a tedious process. Employers must hire an immigration attorney, pay the application cost of $3,000 to $4,000 and complete all the paperwork. There is no guarantee the application will be approved.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, it receives an average of 124,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period, but only has 65,000 visas to award per year. This is a reason why employers are unwilling to hire international students, regardless of their skills and talents. Many large firms are upfront with their policies of not hiring international students, denying students their dreams.
USCIS already reached the statutory H-1B quota of 65,000 visas within a week for fiscal year 2014, which ended April 5, 2013. One week is not the record for reaching the H-1B cap — in 2007, it took only one day. A new filing period started on April 1.
This uphill job-hunting process leaves many international students depressed and frustrated. Hence, many explore other paths. Some choose to pursue advanced degrees, volunteer at companies or work at unpaid internships. Other students return to their homeland to start the job-hunting process again.
International students have specific advantages over domestic students, such as language skills, promoting diversity and overseas experience. Because our first language is typically not English, most of us are fluent in one other language.
Based on my personal experience, Northeastern University should do a better job preparing international students for employment. It holds a career fair every semester but most participating companies will not hire international students. This does not include tech companies looking for computer science majors. On average, there are less than 10 companies looking to hire non-engineering international students.
Students who are active and determined to obtain U.S. work experience tend to achieve their goals. Networking plays a big role as well. Students will constantly face rejection while job hunting. They should also beware of scams as well. My advice for local and international students is to never give up, be persistent and indispensable.
This post is also available in: Chinese