Graduation yields uncertainty for international students

By Carly Needham

With graduation quickly approaching, many students might feel a sense of uncertainty for what their futures will hold, but this uncertainty is sometimes far more pressing for international students on campus.

International students who have had to overcome language barriers, adjust to cultural differences and deal with all the other obstacles that accompany international study, will face yet another major challenge once their F1 student status visas expire after graduation – finding work.

These students come to drastic crossroads in their lives upon graduation as they are basically left with only two options: find immediate employment in the United States or be sent back to their native countries.

As far as the employment options go, international students can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which grants them permission to stay in the United States for one year to gain practical work experience, or hope to find an employer willing to petition for an H-1B working visa for them – an expensive and complicated process.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site, H-1B visas cost $1,000 each in addition to several other expensive processing fees. The United States also lowered its quota on working visas last year and will now only issue 65,000 visas for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. Many companies would rather hire American students to avoid dealing with the expenses and regulations of petitioning for H-1B working visas for qualified foreign students.

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If neither of these options proves successful, students will have no choice but to return to their native countries. Many International students are aware of this existing possibility in the already highly competitive job market and recognize it as a challenge.

“Basically it’s tough for us to get working visas because companies have to pay so much to sponsor us,” said Adi Siah, international student and senior in business.

“A lot of us go back to our countries because it is very hard for us to stay,” said Sanae Tominaga, a Japanese international student and junior in LAS.

Tominaga said that most international students she knows would prefer to remain in the United States, but that the primary concern for them is finding work, not which country they’ll end up in.

Tominaga said that though she would love to stay here, both she and her parents are more concerned with her getting a job rather than choosing a country.

Aleksandr Ammosov, international student and senior in business, said many companies do not like to hire students under OPT because they are aware that these students are only guaranteed a one-year stay. Similarly, Ammosov said they are also less inclined to sponsor an international student in need of an H1B visa not only due to the expense, but also because of these time commitment issues.

Ammosov said the companies have no guarantee that international employees will decide to stay in the United States for an extended period of time. He said they are aware that international employees may opt to eventually return to their native countries to use their education and experience there.

Ammosov said companies also have concerns about cultural differences and language barriers that might affect how well the employee will fit into their corporation. Because companies must invest a considerable amount of both time and money in international students, they often prefer to avoid the hassle and uncertainty by hiring American college graduates instead.

“When you’re 21 in a foreign country and have just graduated, you face hard decisions,” Ammosov, a Russian native who has been in the United States for five years, said. “Your family is in one place, but you just got your degree here. You’re not sure what you want to do. It’s pretty tough.”

Ammosov is still awaiting confirmation on his OPT application and remains unsure about where his immediate future will lead him.

“If I don’t get OPT, I will be sent back,” Ammosov said.

Siah, originally from Indonesia, hopes to get a full-time job because he wants to stay in the United States. He has two interviews lined up, but said he will have to go home if he does not receive offers from either of the employers.

“I think (the work situation) sucks,” Siah said. “But I understand that companies have to pay a certain amount of fees just to sponsor me, so I have to accept it. I can’t complain anymore.”