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After graduating from U.S. universities, international students must find a job in their degree field, continue their education in a graduate or doctoral program, change to another visa status or return home.
Graduates who pursue postgraduate employment must apply for work authorization granted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security immediately before or after graduation, giving them one year to work professionally. If they wish to continue working in the U.S., they must find a company willing to sponsor them for an H-1B visa issued by DHS, which allows them to work professionally in the U.S. for six years.
One problem with this H-1B system is that each year, under federal legislation, there are only 65,000 new H-1B visas available, with 6,800 reserved under free-trade agreements with Chile and Singapore; an additional 20,000 H-1B visas are available for foreign workers who have earned a postgraduate degree in the U.S.
right, Robyn Stewart, Monica Sharp, Sheena Maria Connell and Mariana Mircheva inside the University of Oklahoma International Student Services offices.
“If the company makes the decision to employ the foreign national after the 65,000 H-1B visa numbers are already gone for the year, then the foreign national has to go home,” he says.
Often, employers do not wish to lose months of productivity from a new hire due to visa delays.
Monica Sharp, director of International Student Services at the University of Oklahoma, says many smaller companies are reluctant to begin the visa sponsorship process.
“Employers are reluctant to spend thousands of dollars on an employment-based visa petition that may not be approved for an employee who may not stay with the company,” she says, adding the recent economic climate has made job searching more difficult for international graduates. “Jobs can be hard to come by, no matter how hard a student searches, or how good their grades were.”
STEM GRAD ADVANTAGE
Stump says generally the students who are able to find work are those with degrees in STEM categories: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“That’s where U.S. students are not moving into,” he says. “That’s where there will always be a need.”
At OU, STEM majors make up seven of the top 10 majors for 2,230 international students. Petroleum engineering, electrical and computer engineering and computer science are the top three majors, with 219, 78 and 73 students, respectively.
According to numbers from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, Wipro Limited, Microsoft Corporation and Intel Corporation were the top three employers of H-1B visa-holders from 2009-10, with employment of 1,964, 1,318 and 723 visa-holders, respectively. These companies’ products fall within the STEM categories.
Inam Udom, a Nigerian graduate from OU who got his degree in aerospace engineering, has not found his search easy, even with a degree in engineering.
“It makes you a little bit nervous that you’re not going to get a job,” he says. “But that’s one thing about life: You’ve got to keep trying.”
He says he recognizes the system, but doesn’t necessarily agree with it.
“Just looking at it humanly, I would say it’s not fair,” he says. “But since you’re coming to someone’s country to try to get a job, I guess it’s fair, kind of. I just think everyone should be given a chance.”
Stump says Oklahoma isn’t the best place for STEM graduates to find jobs, but he feels as though they shouldn’t limit their search geographically.
sectors have a driving demand for different professions,” he says.
“It’s softer in Oklahoma than it is in other regions for these highly
Photo by Mark Hancock