February 14, 2012

International Students Struggle to Find Jobs in U.S.

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As Cornellians across campus scramble to send off polished applications to summer internships, international students say they are frustrated with the lack of off-campus job opportunities available to them.

The number of international students attending Cornell has grown steadily every year, increasing from 3,086 in 2005 to 3,667 in 2010, according to the International Students and Scholars Office’s website. Despite this, the number of positions available to international students has not risen to meet demand, according to Rebecca Sparrow, executive director of Cornell Career Services.

In fact, Sparrow said, the number of jobs available to international students has been decreasing, because employers are not as strapped for talent as they were before the economic downturn two years ago.

More than 90 percent of international students at Cornell have an F-1 student visa, according to Brendan O’Brien, director of the ISSO. The visa allows students to work up to 20 hours a week on campus, although students who want to work off-campus must apply for “practical training.” If approved, students can then work in their field of study for one year.

About half of Cornell’s international students apply for practical training at least once during their time here, O’Brien said.

Sparrow said large numbers of international students apply for practical training because they are feeling pressured to have work experience on their resume.

“It’s increasingly important for people to have work experience, just to be able to demonstrate to a potential employer when they graduate that they have skills that that employer wants to pay for,” Sparrow said. “That does create pressure … in certain career fields, it’s becoming almost impossible to get the kind of position that a Cornell student is looking for.”

The job market has changed for international students since the economic downturn, Sparrow said.

“Now, it’s easier for students to get visas, but it’s harder for them to find jobs,” Sparrow said.

According to O’Brien, hiring an international student for a full-time position is a costly and time-consuming process that certain companies, especially smaller ones, cannot afford.

“During a time of high unemployment, international students have an even more difficult time than U.S. students, just because if a company can avoid any kind of uncertainty or avoid the additional expense, they often do,” O’Brien said.

However, O’Brien said he remains optimistic that international students at Cornell can obtain employment and excel in the U.S. job market.

“Usually, international students overcome [barriers to employment] because they have so much to offer,” he said.

Many international students did not share O’Brien’s optimism.

Li Gao ’14, a U.S. permanent resident from China, said that he believes international students are at an “innate disadvantage” when searching for jobs in the U.S. He said he recently applied and interviewed for a company, only to be turned away because he was not a U.S. citizen.

“I applied to an internship to a software/cyber security company last semester and did pretty well over an on-site interview. We even started joking around, and I thought to myself that I definitely got myself a dream internship,” Gao said in an email. “But then they asked me whether I was a U.S. citizen, and when I hesitated, they told me that while I was a great fit for their group, I wouldn’t be allowed to work with them unless I am a full citizen.”

Gao said he wanted to be considered on the same level as every other applicant applying for the same job. He also said that it is unfair to deny someone a job on the basis of his or her citizenship when some fields, like computer science, require technical experience.

“To be honest, I can see why some of these companies have hiring restrictions based on citizenship for the sake of security. But on the other hand, what I’m interested in isn’t really something that you can just pick up by reading through a few textbooks,” he said. “However, in general, I really don’t feel that possessing a plastic card is a valid criterion to deny competent applicants job offers when they are more than qualified for the position.”

John Lee ’15, another international student, said that he is concerned he will be at a disadvantage that he will face when he tries to enter the workforce.

“If I want to get a job here after graduation, I need to find a firm that is willing to sponsor a work visa for me,” Lee said. “A mid-size firm of small sized firm is not going to have the resources … They’re just going to hire Americans.”

Original Author: Margaret Yoder