This trend continues in the summer when students ought to be getting internships in their fields of study. But internships don't come by and the toil on/off campus continues. This is the first checkpoint for our ROI equation. Somehow, making it in the US continues to be a dream.
After graduation, international students face a difficult time to get jobs. This has been complicated by protectionist US immigration policies during the last 3-5 years although there appears to be some movement to relax them in the coming years. [But we also know that if an international student has the right skills set and is active in the correct marketplace, immigration policies have not really been an impediment to securing that dream position].
The issue now is that the new immigration bills making their rounds in the US Congress will significantly increase the number of job seekers as nearly 11 million illegal aliens in the US will eventually be legalized. International students will likely be permitted dual intent - and those with MS or Ph.D degrees will likely get their green cards quicker. All this means that the supply/demand relationship will tilt to excessive labor supply causing additional strain on the international student about to graduate.
And then, there's the larger issue of the US economy itself. The US economy has been weak at job generation since 2008 and this has been an added burden on foreign students. Most economists expect job growth in the US to barely keep up with population growth through the year 2020. Even allowing for demands in the STEM fields - for recent trends, go to "What's Trending in the United States" - the average international student is likely to find it difficult to get well-paid positions in the fields of his choice.
By now, the ROI equation for the international student really begins to sour. They visit friends in distant cities and borrow local addresses to impress employers that they are local. In the meantime, pressure to keep earning a living wage and the desire to pay off that huge education loan brings them back to campus. But staying on campus means that good networking opportunities in hot job markets are being missed.
The pressure to get a full time job quickly - in the student's field of study - grows steadily. "In any given month, a newly jobless worker has about a 20 to 30 percent chance of finding a new job. By the time he or she has been out of work for six months, though, the chance drops to one in 10, according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco", reported the NY Times in a chilling November 2013 article on the prospects of the long-term unemployed.
To top this pressure, immigration laws favor US Citizens and Residents over foreign students. 85,000 H-1B visas are available each year on a first-come, first-served basis. Everyone - including companies that recruit H-1B workers directly from outside the US – competes for the same visa pool. Fortune magazine reports that during the most recent filing period for H-1Bs that began April 2013 , the 85,000 visa cap was reached within a week. Visa recipients are determined by lottery. 40,000 applicants were rejected last year with no option but to try again this year. But F1- Practical Training permits expire 1 year after graduation unless a student participates in the Optional Practical Training Program Extension.
The numbers are indeed grim. The Brookings Institution found that in 2010, there were 342,968 incoming foreign students who accessed the F-1 visa to pursue bachelors, masters, or doctoral degrees. In that same year, just 26,502 of the 76,627 new H-1B work visas went to international students (i.e. only 8% of the incoming F-1 visa class converted to H-1Bs).
In such circumstances, when a student finally does get a job offer, he/she accepts any offer that comes by - even if the job description is at odds with the specialization achieved during graduate school. So desperate is the hunt for a job - and an employer willing to sponsor the student for a work visa - that choice does not enter into the student's equation at all. The thinking is "Any job goes". This is when the ROI really goes south.
Then, the reality of American life sets in - a second time. The student moves out of campus and quickly begins to settle down - get an apartment, buy a car, get a room mate, buy needed appliances - and leaves the supervisor at work to decide the student's career.
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