By Alyson Owyang
Since she graduated in May 2009, despite a number of internships and Trojan Family networking connections, she still doesn’t have a job.
During a time of economic recession and uncertainty, college students across the country are feeling the burden of having to enter the workforce, but if you’re not an American citizen, finding a job requires a lot more than an interview and signing a contract.
International students face barriers other students don’t have to break: ineligibility of applying for American loans, work visa sponsorships, and degrees of fluency in English.
International students made up nearly 17.5 percent of the total USC student population last fall, according to the Office of Academic Records and Registrar. As USC continues to experience increases in international students, particularly those from Asian countries, international Asian-Pacific Islander students are weighing their career options more carefully.
The majority of enrolled international students and student visitors at USC come from Asian countries, including India, China and South Korea. Compared to only 9 percent from Europe, 78 percent of all USC international students originate from Asia, according to the USC Office of International Studies.
Most international students at USC, particularly Asian Pacific Islander students, leave their homes and study abroad because of the wide range of majors offered at American universities. They find they can better satisfy their academic interests by majoring in specific programs, such as communications and political science, at universities in the States.
“There aren’t any private universities in Canada, all schools are public, so I would just have been another number at any university in Canada,” said Wong, who majored in communications. “I really didn’t want that for a college experience. I knew USC was a small/medium sized college and I would have more interaction with my professors, smaller class sizes, and a tighter knit community.”
Although some financial options exist in the forms of scholarships and aid from students’ home countries, international students are ineligible for financial aid or work study from USC. Oftentimes, finding a campus job that accept non-work study students or applying to be a Residential Adviser in one of the dorms can be a competitive, time consuming process. Moreover, most international undergraduate students rely on their families for tuition, whereas graduate students, comprising 46 percent of USC’s international students, tend to struggle more to finance their education, according to the Office of International Studies.
Even though American private universities cost more, there are more options and opportunities in the states for many API international students.
“I chose to come study at an American university because of the flexibility and choice offered here,” said Abhinay Jhaveri, a senior from Bombay, India, majoring in international relations and French with a minor in environmental studies.
Once an international student is about to graduate from USC, competing with American students for the same job position can be another wall to mount.
International students hope to be more marketable to companies in both the states and abroad with an American degree in hand. However, having a degree from a private university in the States might not be enough when it comes to the international, and even local, job market. For many international companies, such as those in Taiwan, students have better chances of being hired if they have a few years of work experience in the U.S. after school and not just an American degree.
Other roadblocks include trying to obtain a work visa or green card to stay in the United States.
“With this economy, [the] American government is taking more time and caution to process green card applications,” said David Cheng-Wei, a recent computer science USC graduate from Taiwan. “This is understandable but nonetheless adds even more uncertainty to [an] already frustrating experience. I can’t even say all these problems I just described is the ‘tip of the iceberg’ because I have not even scratched the surface.”
Facing low levels of morale, some students turn to other post-graduate training programs, but even those can also restrict their pool of applicants to U.S. citizens, only furthering international students’ exasperation.
“Many IR undergraduates end up working in the Peace Corps or Teach for America if not pursuing anything specifically academic, [such as] Fulbright and Rhodes Scholarships, said Jhaveri. “All these opportunities are usually reserved for American citizens as well, which makes it difficult for international students.”