“I came to the U.S. in the first place because I have always had fantasies about the country after watching so many Hollywood films,” Heng Liu, a fourth-year business student from Taiwan said. “I think that the U.S. is a huge international stage and I want to know more about the world and different cultures.”
International students are faced with a tough question when determining what their lives will hold after graduation: should they remain in the United States or head home?
“I don’t want to work an ‘okay’ job just to stay in the U.S. A lot of the big companies won’t hire Chinese graduates because of visa issues,” Xinyi Wong, a fourth-year Marshall School of Business student said.
Wong hopes to work as a private equity investor back in China. He came to the U.S. to pursue a degree in business since he did not like the engineering major that he pursued in Hong Kong, and he is well aware of Marshall’s prestige and quality education. After living in Los Angeles for a while, he became fond of the city because of his passions towards outdoor sports, such as surfing and snowboarding.
However, he has decided to return to China now that he is graduating in less than two months because he believes he will have more career opportunities there. Wong’s arrival back in China does not make his post-grad life any easier though.
“The more time I spend here in the U.S., the more time I lose trying to learn about the Chinese market,” he explained. “When I eventually go back, I won’t be able to compete with the domestic students there.”
Despite the stresses weighing on his mind about his future career plans, Wong has also applied to a few MBA programs in the U.S. as backup plans.
Wong’s worries are not uncommon on USC’s campus. According to USC’s Office of International Services, there are approximately 10,500 international undergraduate and graduate students studying at the university, and more than 3,000 are graduating each year.
For international students who want to be employed in the U.S., OIS offers Optional Practical Training, or OPT. OPT is a type of work authorization that allows F-1 visa students to gain work experience and maintain their visa status for 12 months after their academic program ends.
Almost all international students who apply are able to receive OPT because denial decisions only occur when students fail to meet basic application eligibility requirements or if they miss a deadline. About 2, 375 students applied for OPT this year, according to OIS officials.
A 2016 article published on OIS’s website showed that a total of 85,000 H-1B visas are made available by the U.S. government per fiscal year. Despite these large numbers, OPT does not guarantee students will be sponsored by employers.
USC’s Career Center encourages international students to secure a full-time job before their academic program or OPT ends. It offers workshops that teach them how to write resumes and cover letters for U.S. employers. They connect companies with students via the online job database ConnectSC, on-campus recruiting and two career fairs per academic year.
According to Jennifer Kim, the career center’s director of employers and research, just 17% of on-campus recruiting employers sponsored international students during the 2016 to 2017. She said that there has also been a one percent increase from the 2016 fall career fair to the 2017 fall fair, during which about 14% of employers sponsored students. Although the statistics seem low, Kim said they are pretty good numbers and the 1% increase is a positive uptake.
“We do our best to persuade employers to sponsor students,” Kim said. “We tell them how easy it is. We have instructions on our website that say how to recruit international students.”
The career center also helps students find jobs back home as well through partnerships with their offices and outside associations in those countries.
“[The students’] number one goal is to stay here in the states, but now more students are realizing that it is not viable for everybody,” Kim explained. “They are starting to be more open to going back.”
In fact, leaders from international student associations said that from what they are seeing, a majority of international students are returning to their home after working in the U.S. for a couple of years.
“Most of the students that I have come across are very patriotic,” Milind Bhat, president of the Indian Student Association, said. “They come here to be better in the field they are interested in. Then they take all that knowledge they have gained to do some difference back there.”
However, one of the biggest reasons international students choose to go home is the difficulty of finding companies that are willing to sponsor them in the U.S.
Bhat said that companies reject international students because of visa issues. Also, employers have to make sure that students are willing to work at the specific company for a long period of time before they consider filling out the complicated paperwork for sponsoring international students.
According to Ruifeng Wang, career development staff of the Chinese Student and Scholars of Association, finding companies that are willing to sponsor international students depends on the major the students are studying.
"Big CS [computer science] companies may be willing to sponsor you, but media companies such as NBC say they don't even offer internships to international students," Wang said. "If the company has enough domestic students who are applying, then there really is no reason for them to look out for international students."
Russell Ng, chair of professional affairs of the International Student Assembly, says it is becoming more difficult to stay in the U.S. now because the distribution of H1-B visas depends on a lottery system.
"Even if your company decides to sponsor you, it's not a guarantee that you will actually get a visa because there is a limited amount of spots every year and there are a lot of applicants," Ng explained. "Right now, there is a 30% chance that you are going to be chosen by the U.S. government to get a H1-B visa."
Many international students who return home are also concerned with their ability to compete with domestic students because of their lack of knowledge about local markets, according to Kim.
The university’s Career Center also works with outside organizations and hosts panels that help students reintegrate into markets and connect with representatives from overseas companies.
One of the organizations that USC works closely with is the Global University China Career Union, which provides information about job markets in China to Chinese overseas returnees.
According to Wei Ge, the marketing director of the union, the number of Chinese students returning to China is growing every year and there will be approximately 666,000 returnees this year, a majority of which will be going into the business and computer science industries.
Ge said that overseas returnees have the advantages of foreign language ability and advanced professional knowledge in their field of study, but the biggest issue they face is the lack of information about employment markets in China.
"They have no idea of the right time to apply jobs in China, they don't have experience of group interviews and they don't know how to write a standard resume," she explained. "That's why [USC] supports [our union] to share professional ideas with [Chinese students] every year."
Life after graduation poses many challenges for international students, but the career center is working to help.
"You need to plan way in advance and you need to pursue multiple plans at the same time," Kim advised. "Go ahead and apply to companies in the U.S. that will sponsor you, but also look at jobs back [home]."