International students look towards future careers, face challenges

International students contemplate future careers in the U.S., but face challenges that local students may not have to worry about. 

International students look towards future careers, face challenges

13 percent of UW-Madison undergraduates are international students, according to enrollment reports of 2018 fall done by the Office of the Registrar from UW Madison. Though UW-Madison is a predominantly white school, the number of international students  are not too small to represent. UW-Madison accepts degree-seeking and exchange undergraduates, graduates and doctoral students representing more than 130 countries.

Nationally, there were 785,435 students seeking either a bachelor’s (402,293 students) or master’s degree (383,142 students) from 2017 to 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

“I wanted to pursue better education in here,” said a UW-Madison sophomore from Asia majoring in biochemistry, who wished to remain anonymous. “I thought there was a future prospect, because I think there are more opportunities for developing my academic interest.”

But finding a job after school can be a challenge. 

A senior aspiring to be a journalist from Hong Kong who also wished to remain anonymous, has found the job search to be difficult because of her current immigration status. She said she wishes to stay in the country after graduating from UW-Madison, but she has her concerns about her future.

“NBC Universal does not hire unless people who have permanent residency,” she said. 

In some cases, companies mention whether or not they accept foreigners in job descriptions. But she mentioned getting a job is about much more than the application. Social capital and networking are just as important, which local students have an advantage in, she explained. 

Many International students decide to work on a student visa after graduation through a program called Optional Practical Training (OPT). Students must work a job that relates to their field of study, therefore gaining practical field knowledge. Students can utilize OPT before or after graduation. Usually, OPT allows students to work for one year. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics  majors so called STEM can work for 2 years. 

The U.S. government issued roughly 1.47 million OPT approvals to international students between 2004 and 2016, according to Pew. However, the OPT presents some challenges. 

“If you are unemployed for more than 90 days during OPT, you are violating. Domestic students before graduating do not have to get through the same stress as international students do,” the unnamed senior said. “It is hard because all you're doing is contributing to the society, and same goes for other immigrants.”

The number of international students in the U.S has been declined amongst welcoming new students in fall 2017, according to a report by the IIE Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact. Multiple factors are behind the phenomenon: difficulty of student visa application for denials or delay, cost of tuition and social and political environment in the country, found the study. 45 percent of  international students started working in the U.S. after graduation  by extending their visa, found a survey from the Brookings Institution. 

UW-Madison International Student Service can be a helpful resource for international students, making the transition from college to the workforce go more smoothly.

“International students often choose their career when they are in their home countries and apply to a school in the U.S. based on their career choice,” said Roopa Rawjee, the ISS Director and Assistant Dean of Students. ISS “separates career from employment authorization,” because “work visas are obtained with the help of the employer,” said Rawjee. ISS introduces sources that international students can utilize in order to find their career path in the United States or their home country.

“I think feeling othered as an international student is intersectional,” said the unnamed senior. “You are not only thinking about race and ethnicity, but also your immigration status.” 

The anonymous sophomore agreed. 

“I think it is inevitable for our age to think about identity,” she said. “The difference I have with other students affected me at first, but not anymore. I have good time learning in UW-Madison, and it makes me feel better.” 

After the interview, she opened up her laptop and started studying for upcoming exams. 

For more information about the employment and OPT system, go to employment page from ISS to learn steps to apply to work off-campus and OPT.

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