International Students Experience Unique Difficulties

With graduation approaching in May, graduating Bronchos will be entering the workforce and tackling the process of job applications and interviews. For the University of Central Oklahoma’s graduating international students, this same process can be more expensive and full of its own unique difficulties.

There are multiple processes to go through for an international student to look for a job after graduation. First, they have to apply for Optional Practical Training, which costs $410, and then they have to look for a job that starts within three months after their graduation. If not, students have to return to their home country.

For undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than nine months, OPT is a period during which they are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to work toward getting practical training to complement their field of studies.

For international students with an F-1 visa studying in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, OPT is renewable up to three years. Other majors only allow one year of OPT.

Paul Yang, an international Fall 2018 graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma, said that communication is a big problem for him because English is not his first language.

“Americans can speak better English than me, therefore a lot of companies would prefer to hire people from here rather than international students,” Yang said.

Yang also said that even before he graduated, he started asking his friends in other states for job opportunities, but at the same time, he did not want to move across the state. He found a business company in Oklahoma who has a history of hiring international students and he now works there as a marketing researcher.

However, Timothy Kok, director of International Affairs for the UCO Office of Global Affairs, said that the alumni that the office has spoken to have had no difficulty in finding employment following graduation.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers collected data of international student employment rates for 2018 and 2019.  Last year, the percentage of employers that had plans to hire international students dropped to its lowest level in the past five years at 23.4 percent. This year, however, more than 28 percent of respondents indicate plans to hire international students.

After the OPT period ends, Yang also said that the next step, the H1-B working visa process, is not easy. He said the company an international student is seeking to work for has to help with applying for an H1-B visa, and it requires a lot of processing and documentation. USCIS will do a background check on the company and the company has to pay at least $750 to apply for the visa.

“It can be difficult to find employment in the U.S. if you are an international student because there are a number of restrictions and requirements related to visas and often employers are hesitant,” said Elizabeth Enck, director of UCO’s Career Development Center. “Some of the reasons include misunderstanding the process concerning visas, costs and time associated with sponsorship and the fear of investing in employees who may leave in a year.”

Enck also said there are tips to make the hiring process easier, which includes starting the job search early.

“It can take a while to find an opportunity and there will be paperwork involved,” Enck said. “Also, make sure you know all of the rules and regulations and be able to explain them to an employer.”

Both Kok and Enck also advise international students to be more involved in student organizations on campus to gain experience.

However, Enck said the Career Development Center provides some help for international students to better prepare for their future. Students can also meet with the office to talk one-on-one about their job search.

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