International Students Face Numerous Obstacles to U.S. Employment

As graduation season approaches, not all students feel the excitement of new possibilities that comes with obtaining their diplomas. 

For the growing number of international students at the Claremont Colleges, graduation does not automatically mean returning to their home country. Many hope to remain in the U.S. in order to gain work experience. However, the situation is far from simple.

Yang PO '16, who wished to be identified only by his last name, was unable to secure a full-time job offer upon graduation.

“I mostly took my interest into consideration when choosing a major,” said Yang, who majored in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He is currently contemplating applying to graduate programs in the U.S. in international relations and political economy, citing the improvement of employment prospects as the primary reason for his decision.

“[Having] a graduate degree will increase my chances of finding a job in the U.S.,” he said. “However, at the same I feel like there is a heavy cost, with tuition being the most obvious.”

Among the numerous obstacles that international students looking to work in the United States face, the question of sponsorship for the employment-based visa is the biggest consideration. In order to enter the lottery for an H-1B visa, the program which allows U.S. employers to employ foreign workers temporarily, students must obtain sponsorship from an employer.

“Smaller companies are less likely to sponsor for the H-1B visa, so some international students feel their options are limited to working for larger, more-established companies, who have a record of sponsoring employees for the H-1B visa,” Jessica Alampay, director of I-Place, the international student office of The Claremont Colleges, wrote in an email to TSL.

Because of the added expense and investment of sponsoring a student for the visa, employers often are less willing to hire international students.

Furthermore, international students holding F-1 immigration status working with Optional Practical Training authorization must find a job related to their area of study.

“Domestic students can ‘follow their dreams’ so to speak, or change the course of their career at any time, whereas international students can only do so insofar as it coincides with their field of study,” Alampay wrote.

However, some students have been able to fare well under the unforgiving job environment. Ziqi Xiong PO '17, a computer science major, has accepted an offer to work as a software engineer at Facebook Inc. upon graduation.

Xiong interned at Google the summer of his junior year and was offered a full-time position at the company upon completion of the internship. He said that he prefers to work in the U.S. because companies offer better pay, employment benefits, and the opportunity to work on more interesting projects. However, he ultimately chose Facebook because “its culture is the most fast-paced, youngest and cooperative among the other companies that gave me offers.”

Unlike other international students, he did not face any significant challenges concerning visa sponsorship.

“The bigger the companies, the less likely they are concerned with immigration costs,” Xiong said. According to data released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as of Jan. 12, 2017, 64.5 percent of successful H-1B visas were in computer-related occupations.

Currently, I-Place does not dedicate resources to tracking the specific breakdown of post-graduation destinations of international students. However, given that the Optional Practical Training extension that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students get after graduation is three years as opposed to one year for non-STEM students, there is strong motivation for international students to pursue the STEM fields.  

Vedant Vohra PO '18, from New Delhi, India, is a mentor in the International Student Mentorship Program, an organization that is currently in a conversation with the Career Development Office at Pomona and I-Place about increasing institutional support for international students in the job market.

“Pomona is not the most pre-professional college,” said Vohra, who is an economics and mathematics double-major. “It’s important that Pomona gives students the resources they need to find jobs, because it’s especially hard given that most companies don’t even hire international students, let alone sponsor them for visas.”

Some changes that he would like to see include more standardized policies surrounding visa applications, more education on employment issues, and greater mentorship for international students.

“The conversation with the CDO has been about giving international students the basic resources to find jobs and navigate their careers,” said Vohra. “We’re new here, we don’t know how anything works in this country. We’re trying to figure out college life, let alone post-college plans, which is an entirely different territory.”

International students are limited in terms of post-graduation choices, as popular options such as fellowships and law school are dominated by domestic students.

“I was considering applying to law school at one point in time, and I was wondering how that works financially,” Vohra said. “Are there special things I need to do as an international student, and once you become a lawyer, do firms actually like to hire you? These are questions that are very exclusive to international students, and we don’t really have the resources to answer them.”

“When you come to Pomona, you sort of decide that education is the end and not the means to an end,” he said. “That’s a hard thing for international students to accept because they need it to go somewhere.”