Muhammad Abdullah Asim shakes his head as he recalls all the jobs he’s applied for in preparation for his upcoming graduation.
After applying to about 70 companies, and spending almost 350 hours on applications alone, he’s heard back from one — which denied him. Asim, a senior mechanical engineering student from Islamabad, Pakistan, has been experiencing the difficulty of an international student deciding to stay in the U.S. after graduating from OU.
Robyn Rojas, an adviser at the International Student Services Center, said that international students wanting to stay in the U.S. after graduating will either have to apply for Optional Practical Training, or change their immigration status, or visa type, to one that permits work.
Rojas said that all students are eligible for 12 months of OPT and students completing STEM degrees can apply for an additional 24-month extension, and they can start the application process 3 months prior to their graduation date. OPT allows students to stay in America and get job experience before returning home.
“I think there is absolutely more pressure for that international student than a domestic student to stand out as a top candidate and convince the employer that they are worth the investment and additional legal work when the time comes to expand their employment eligibility beyond OPT,” Rojas said.
Vianne Hinsdale, an adviser for the OU United World College Scholars Program, said that getting approved to work in the U.S. can be difficult.
“The jump from OPT to H-1B, from going from a student to a work visa, is so incredibly hard,” Hinsdale said. “Most people don't get there.”
Asim said he was qualified for the job he was turned down for, and that the reason he did not get it had nothing to do with his resume.
“They saw my resume and they saw that I was skilled enough to get the job, so they called me back for an interview,” Asim said. “And when I go to the interview they ask me if I need sponsorship because it’s one of their standard questions, and I said yes, because I don’t want to lie, and they rejected me because of that reason.”
Sponsorship is when a company will pay for their employee, or potential employee, to receive a work visa. It can cost thousands of dollars, especially is the company uses a immigration lawyer in the process.
Rojas said a common reason companies don’t hire international students is the cost.
“One type of work visa is an H-1B visa,” Rojas said. “The employer is actually considered the petitioner in H-1B applications and it can cost thousands of dollars to file the application with (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services), especially if the company uses an immigration attorney to manage the application paperwork.”
This causes international students to stress and makes them have to work harder than normal students to be able to compete for jobs.
“One of my team members in my capstone group has a GPA lower than mine and I have more experience working for both American companies and foreign companies, and he got a job from the same company (that denied me),” Asim said. “On paper, if you ignore the fact that he’s American and I’m an international student, I was the better candidate.”
Asim works a part-time job on campus while also taking 21 credit hours and tutoring other students on the side.
“What bothers me is the fact that I work as hard, if not harder, than any regular student here,” Asim said. “I put in all this hard work and at the end of the four years I expect to get some sort of reward for it and then it’s just nothing — that’s really disheartening.”
Hinsdale said that companies are very risk-averse in terms of hiring international students.
“If it's a STEM degree, it's a little bit easier,” Hinsdale said. “They may have them for more than a year, but then even with a STEM degree, there's no guarantee technically that that extension will be granted.”
Hinsdale said that this is disheartening for a lot of international students as they're looking for a job for after graduation.
“I feel like it’s not the university's fault and it’s not the fault of these companies, because each company has the right to administer whatever policy they have,” Asim said. “It’s just there is no clear channel of communication between the international students and these companies. There should be clarity.”
Asim would agree and said a database or list of companies who have previously hired OU international students with the same degree would be beneficial.
“It’s not that I’m lazy and I don’t want to do the work, it’s just that I’m stretched so thin,” Asim said. “It’s either let your GPA drop and focus on getting a job, or, you know, stop sleeping and just stay awake for 24 hours, and see how that goes.”
Hinsdale encourages international students to keep working, and not to be discouraged by the process. She said students should start looking early, follow up with companies, send emails, call, introduce themselves, and make sure they are utilizing Career Services.
“It can be really discouraging sometimes for international students, that post-graduation period finding a job on OPT and plus all the other stuff that any student who's close to graduating is going through,” Hinsdale said. “It may seem like the job process is just another horrifying, stressful experience on top of that, but just make sure that you're keeping positive ... and applying to as many positions as possible.”