All soon-to-be-graduates at Knox face the pressures of looking for employment after they finish their undergraduate studies. International students face the additional stressor of visa timeframes and trying to stay in a country that they have come to call home.
After graduation, international students have the option to apply for optional practical training (OPT), during which time they are allowed to gain work experience in the United States.
During OPT these students must find employment in their field of study within 90 days of graduation.
“From what I’ve heard it’s really really really stressful because if you graduate and you plan to stay here, and you do not plan to go to grad school … and you do not have a job, it’s obviously going to be frustrating because you are on a deadline to find a job that is in your major,” Senior Nana Opoku said.
Upon gaining employment students can extend their stay up to 12 months. Special extensions are available for students in the STEM fields.
Senior Kwesi Addo-Yobo has reconsidered his post-graduation plans in part due to the constraint of trying to stay in the US. Instead of looking towards grad school he is now more interested in working after college.
“I kind of know I want to take a break from school. I don’t want to just go straight from undergraduate to a harder program because I want to do engineering,” Addo-Yobo said.
“Mainly because I know I can buy myself time.”
Opoku is also looking towards employment as he is unsure what he wants to study in grad school. He currently plans to use OPT to remain in the US and seek employment with a company that might eventually bring him on long term with an H1-B visa.
H1-B visas are not easy to obtain as they are not provided by all US companies and represent some cost for the employer that would not be accrued hiring an American citizen. This visa extends the possible stay time up to 3 years and allows for the holder to apply for a green card.
However, Opoku has taken to heart the advice of recent international graduates and seek a job that will offer him long-term employment.
“People do not want to just jump in to any OPT opportunity, if you don’t get a job that is going to sponsor you in the future you might end up doing OPT and still have to go back home,” Opoku said.
Junior Guillaume Dadey expressed some concern about eventually entering the job market as an international student.
“I think definitely a disadvantage, what I’ve heard from other [international] students who have graduated, it seems easier to get a job over here if you have American citizenship. I feel like every company wants to give its own people jobs first before worrying about everybody else,” Dadey said.
While Addo Yobo shared Dadey’s feelings about preference being shown to domestic candidates, but also said that his experience as an international student would be an asset.
“Definitely it makes me open, and generally it makes an international student open, to being able to go and live somewhere else and work cause I’m living somewhere else and going to school,” Addo Yobo said.
At the same time Addo Yobo said, “I like the working environment here better, I think I’m comfortable here and at the same time I see my future here.”
Opoku thinks that the experience he gets in the US will be invaluable for him, though he eventually sees himself moving back to Ghana.
“One of the main reasons I do want to stay here for at least the short term is because for my major going back to Ghana might not pay me as much and also it might not be too helpful for me if I don’t build enough experience in the workforce before going back home,” Opoku said.
Opoku said that he expects some difficulties in gaining employment but is confident as a STEM student. As far as companies shying away from international students, he believes that there are companies that will be doing just the opposite as well.
“It’s not all negative because some companies actually want to represent different cultures and people from different parts of the world in their companies and that is why some people actually pay for the H1B,” Opoku said.
“If you are well rounded, have lived in different parts of the world, and are doing very well academically your chances of getting an H1B are very high.”