Phuong Anh Do
While many Marshall University senior students are pressured to find a job after they graduate, international students face a more challenging obstacle if they choose to seek an internship through the program called Optional Practical Training (OPT).
The timeline for F-1 students to obtain work experience in the United States is tight. Students must leave the U.S. 60 days after graduating if they cannot find work.
“It’s a really tough condition,” Dhruval Patel, a graduate civil engineering student from India, said. “It’s really tough competition if you compare yourself with American students. Because they grew up in this environment, they know how to get a job easily, and they know all the steps needed to prepare for the job.”
All F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of OPT, and students in STEM majors, fields of science, technology, engineering and math, can apply for an additional 24-month extension, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
International students often share the same concern in being accepted for OPT, as it can be difficult to stand out in a competitive job market and time to look for jobs is limited. I-Hsin Huang, a graduate MBA major from Taiwan, and Trang Nguyen, a graduate MBA major from Vietnam, said they are feeling the pressure as they will graduate in December 2019.
“My pressure is to find a job before February 2020, so I only have like four months from now to get a good job. It’s really pressure for me,” Huang said. “We’re the international students, and our English is not good enough to get jobs that require a lot of communication, and native speakers, they can do better than that. So, we can just try our best on our working skills.”
Huang said it can be difficult to focus on graduating while also applying for jobs.
“Since my graduation will be at this December, I sometimes feel frustrated as I have to both study and apply jobs,” Nguyen said.
Under the new policy, the OPT program must relate to the student’s field of study, which can limit options.
“Being an international student and not having lots of experience, it’s not easy for me to get a good or well-paid job,” Nguyen said. “And to me, I only need a job first to have experience, so I can move to higher positions or move to another better job in their future.”
There are some students who said they believe they will get a chance to work in the United States, and Ryohei Fukuda, a graduate MBA major from Japan, is one of the cases. Fukuda said he is lucky there are more job opportunities for Japanese students to get their OPT experience.
“Here in West Virginia, they have about 20 Japanese companies, so I can apply for one of them,” Fukuda said. “There will be a career fair in November where 241 companies attend and try to hire Japanese people. So, for me, I should be able to find a company that I can work for.”
The work environment, economic opportunities and personal freedoms are some of the top reasons international students decide to stay and work in the U.S.
“I can always go back to Taiwan, and I believe that I can find a good job, but I want to work here because in the U.S., it’s a freedom country, everyone can have their own habit and can do whatever they want,” Huang said. “The community is very diversity, so I think being here is very comfortable for me.”
F-1 students may apply to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for post-completion OPT as early as 90 days prior to the program end date on the I-20 and no later than the end of the 60 day grace period, according to Lesli Burdette, associate director of admissions for International Student Services.
Students concerned about the OPT terms or the number of accrued days of unemployment are encouraged to reach out to the Office of International Student Services.
Phuong Anh Do can be contacted at [email protected]