International student office works to ensure post-grad employment for students

Concern mounts regarding employment plans in “unpredictable” environment

International student office works to ensure post-grad employment for students

Members of the International Student Association pose for a photo. 

Many college graduates have to answer similar post-graduation questions: Where will I live? Where will I work? Does frozen pizza count as meal prep?

Yet, American University’s international student community has to answer those questions, and more, in the wake of swift and uncertain foreign policy decisions that could threaten their ability to stay and work in the U.S.

Chelsey Yangqiansu Cao, founder and treasurer of the International Student Association, said she is worried about employment opportunities after graduation.

“It’s so unpredictable, we have no idea what the next policy is going to be,” Cao said. “The employers that used to be open to international students now shy away because they don’t want to be exposed to that risk.”

There are approximately 1,200 to 1,500 international students enrolled at AU each academic year, said Katie Pettet, an adviser for immigration services and compliance in the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office. Most of them have F-1 visas, which allow them to apply for optional practical training, a one-year work extension for students who have recently graduated or who have been in school for at least nine months.

The ISSS office tracks these students, which is often around 200; however, some may stay in the U.S. and change their visa type, Pettet said.

“[Most students] either go home or they go for their master’s,” Pettet said. “It’s kind of a case- by- case basis for our students. Some are very interested in staying and working after graduation.”

International student concerns regarding their immigration status are mounting since the 2016 presidential election, Pettet said. Based on her interactions with students, Pettet said students are mainly concerned about finding permanent employment. However, it often depends on the type of visa they have and whether or not they can find an employer to sponsor them.

According to Pettet, while the office’s main focus is providing immigration assistance to students, they are only able to advise on F-1 visas. However, students also have the option to apply for an H-1B visa, which allows companies to employ college graduates in certain technical positions, such as accounting, architecture, finance and engineering.

“The employment-based visas have regulations that cap the amount,” of students that can stay, Pettet said. “That can be a very anxious situation if a company is trying to hire them and apply for that visa.”

While some students’ concern has heightened with the new administration, other international students claim that post-graduation employment has always been an issue in their community.

Sunny Zhang, an AU alumna and first year graduate student at George Washington University, chose to continue her education in D.C. in hopes of increasing her employability in a competitive field. She said that in order to receive visa sponsorship, she has to be able to perform an indispensable service, something she hopes to achieve through graduate education.

“A lot of the jobs that I apply to, like the big think tanks, are looking for minimum level grad students,” said Zhang, whose area of study is international relations and Asian studies.

Getting sponsorship for the H-1B visa is difficult because companies often hesitate or say no, Zhang said. Even if she does receive visa sponsorship, Zhang said, her chances of receiving it are still slim due to a lottery allocation system.

“It doesn’t matter which president is in office, it won’t change anything,” Zhang said. “Unless [the government] decides that when international students graduate, they can have any job they want to.”

Pettet said her office and the Career Center have taken extra measures to support international students, such as highlighting international employee-friendly companies at job fairs and helping students create an American resume.

The office’s most recent effort was an event titled “Transitioning Beyond AU.” The event featured immigration attorneys, an alumni panel and a presentation from the Career Center with the goal of informing students about their employment options upon graduation. ISSS plans to hold a similar event on Feb. 10.

Though the University is helping students explore their options to stay in the U.S., many international students are rethinking their willingness to remain in the country, Cao said.

“I think more and more [international students] are saying ‘Oh, I guess the U.S. is not that perfect of a place after all. It’s probably not worth trying to stay here anyways,’” Cao said.

Unlike Zhang, Cao said many international students are choosing to enroll in graduate school after AU in hopes that the presidential administration will transition before they’ve graduated.

Though AU is doing a good job supporting international students, Cao said, the University’s efforts can only go so far.

“The University is doing everything they can to support international students,” Cao said. “But there’s nothing they can do with the current political climate.”

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