When figuring out what to do after graduation, fourth year Marketing major Trisha Khanna was a bit stressed: “Major freak out: That was my thought process.” Many students seem to go through this as they get closer to graduation, but Khanna had more factors to consider than some of her fellow classmates.
Khanna is from New Delhi, India and, as an international student, she has to take visas and citizenship into consideration. Although international students are able to stay in the United States during their degree program with little hassle due to their student visas, the paperwork becomes a bit more complicated after graduation. Not all students plan to stay in the United States after graduating but those who do have to make sure that it is truly a possibility.
This is a concern to many students on campus considering that over 10 percent are international students. As of fall 2012, 1,949 students from 101 countries were enrolled for either their graduate or undergraduate degree here.
UNDERGRADUATE VS. GRADUATE DEGREES
Jeffery Cox, the director of International Student Services, estimates that about two thirds of international students at RIT are here for their graduate degree, some of them pursuing their PhD. Fewer students come to RIT for their undergraduate degrees, partially due to the cost of obtaining an undergraduate degree.
Mechanical Engineering graduate student Arnab Chanda is from India and from his experience, he understands why not as many students are willing to come to the United States for their undergraduate degree: “Undergraduate is very expensive. There’s a huge difference in the currency because a dollar is like 50 Indian rupees … Graduate tends to be about five times cheaper than that.”
Even with a cheaper tuition and a scholarship that covers about half of his schooling costs, Chanda is paying much more for his education here than he had to pay for the undergraduate degree he got in India. “I spend like $2,000 for a course,” says Chanda, “[With] $2,000, I was done with my undergrad back in India.”
However, Khanna still came to the United States for her undergraduate degree and so did fourth year International Business and Marketing Major Andre Joly from Brazil. Joly knew from a very young age that he wanted to come to the United States for his college education.
“If you compare a University in Brazil, they aren’t as good as the colleges here in the [United States]. That’s why I decided I wanted to come here for my education,” says Joly. “I wanted to get the best education that I could.
STAYING IN THE US AFTER GRADUATION
Joly hopes that he can find a job here after graduation and stay in the United States for the duration of his career. So far, he’s on the right track, having completed a six-month marketing internship with Disney, focused on their Latin American audience. Joly believes that he has a lot to contribute due to his experience at RIT as well as his knowledge of the region and he hopes that he can get similar job opportunities in the future. “After I graduate, that’s kind of what I want to do; I want to work for an American company but focusing on the Latin American market,” says Joly.
But for many international students, it can be difficult to get a long-term job in the United States. After a student graduates and their student visa is no longer in effect, they can obtain an Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization, which extends their visa for up to 12 months. Students generally use this time to take advantage of internship opportunities, to find a job that might be willing to sponsor their citizenship in the future or to apply for additional schooling.
If a student does not decide to move on to another degree within the United States or they don’t find a company to sponsor them, staying here more than a year after graduation is near impossible. However, science, technology, engineering and mathematics students can get a 17 month extension on their OPT period.
“They have to be working for a company that’s enrolled in this system called E-Verify but more and more companies these days are and, certainly at RIT, there are a lot of students who studied in those particular majors that are authorized,” says Cox, the director of International Student Services. “If they file on time, they pretty much get it.”
Although getting an OPT and even an extended OPT is not too difficult Cox admits, “Beyond that it is hard. It depends on the economy.” If the economy is in a slump, jobs for international students are difficult to come across because of the paperwork and costs that can be involved.
“The work visa is very difficult to get, unless of course you are an engineer or a doctor or like a crazy financier guru or something,” explains Khanna. “In that case, it becomes a lot easier.”
For students who wish to stay, there are still other options. After their OPT expires, if a student is working for a company that is willing to sponsor the cost and fill out the paperwork, the company can help them change the status of their visa to an H-1B meaning that, as long as they work for that employer, they can stay in the United States for three more years. They can then renew this status for another three years. If they want to change employers, they must re-file and there are additional fees involved.
After getting the H-1B and staying in the country for five or six years, it is much easier to apply for a green card which employers sometimes are willing to sponsor as well.
Chanda hopes to stay in the United States and pursue a career as a professor at a university, following his passion for research: “I always wanted to come to [the United States] and do a lot of research.” However, he doubts that he can get a University to sponsor his citizenship due to the high costs. Instead, he plans on extending his time in the United States by taking advantage of his OPT and then obtaining another student visa for his PhD. By the end of his degree, he believes that he will have spent enough time in the United States to apply for citizenship on his own.
For other international students, there is hope of remaining in the United States as well if they are interested. “What we are seeing in our office this year is a turn and an increase in the number of job opportunities that students get,” says Cox. “We don’t have hard statistics on those but we have definitely processed more co-ops and practical training work papers over the last year. So that’s good. It’s a good sign that the economy is picking back up in a lot of sectors.”
Overall, it appears that the slowly improving economy and employers increasing open-mindedness is leading to growing opportunities for international students as well. For the students graduating in the near future, it still might be a bit of a struggle, but the possibility and the resources to help are still here. “I think it’s going to be hard,” says Joly. “But at the same time, I think I’m ready; I think I’m prepared.”