International students face choice to stay or go upon graduation

Daily Sundial

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Upon graduation, international students must determine whether to return home or remain in the United States to work.

Eligible international students with student visas can choose to remain an additional year in the United States after graduation in order to gain work experience in their fields of study, said Leona Duggar, immigration technician for the CSUN Office of Student Development and International Programs.

Under this option, international students can apply for Optional Practical Training, in which students with F-1 visa status are allowed to work off-campus in fields related to their majors. Students with the F-1 visas are required to be enrolled as full-time students, have good academic standing, and be in their final semester when they apply.

“If they choose to do O.P.T., they apply for permission to work up to a year (after graduation),” Duggar said. “Then, (they) seek employment.”

International students usually apply for O.P.T. within 120 days before completing their degrees, according to the Career Center’s guide to employment for F-1 students.

“A majority of international students do (the) O.P.T. (program),” Duggar said.

According to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers website, nearly 75 percent of international students are self-sponsored.

“International students are very resourceful, because they are hard working and they get noticed,” said Roopa Rawjee, foreign student adviser for the Office of Student Development and International Programs.

She said most students take the O.P.T. route and use it as a safety net to continue working in the United States. Rawjee said once an international student has graduated, he or she can spend time searching for a job, and if he or she cannot find a job, the individual has to go back home.

Leidy Lim, a junior liberal studies major and international student from Papua New Guinea, is planning on becoming a teacher, and is trying to get her California teaching credential. She said she does not know whether she will want to remain in the United States after graduation.

Lim works for the CSUN Student Panels for an International Curriculum and Education, a group whose members go to classes and talk about their cultures and countries. She also works in the CSUN International Student Office.

She said she has had the opportunity to talk to many international students about their choices after they graduate. Half of the international students she talks with say they would prefer staying in the United States, while the other half say they would not, she said.

Upon graduation, international students can also continue their studies and work toward higher degrees, Duggar said. Under the same student visa, international students can begin graduate level studies, she said.

Patricia Marquez, an international graduate student in education administration in higher education, along with her husband, also an international graduate student, came to the United States from Peru to further their skills and education.

“(I) always try to use all (of my) opportunities,” said Marquez.

She said after living in Maine for some time, while her husband was teaching there, the two decided to visit California, and specifically CSUN. Marquez said she liked the university and the teaching program the Education Department offered, so she and her husband decided to move.

Marquez is currently enrolled in her second semester.

“(To) stay here (after graduation) legally is an option I have, or to go back to my country, where you have more options to find jobs,” Marquez said.

An international student also has the option of applying for a “working visa,” also known as H-1B, Duggar said.

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, an H-1B status requires an international student with at least a bachelor’s degree to be employed in a specialty occupation, such as accounting, architecture, law or the arts, for a maximum of six years.

An international student must find a specific employer within the specialty occupation, and that employer is then required to petition for the student to be able to stay, Duggar said.

“A smart student does their groundwork two to three years prior to graduation, does the research to build their network, and tries to get a leg into their industry,” Rawjee said.

However, Rawjee said few international students get prepared two or three years in advance, so she is trying to educate them during the first-year orientation and through career planning workshops every semester.

“Our goal is to educate the students and tell them, ‘Hey, this is available for you; these are your options and this is the time to take advantage of them,'” Rawjee said. “Beyond that, it is the students’ responsibility to reach out and grab what (is) offered to them.”

Rawjee said she has noticed that international students are finding it more difficult to hold onto or even find jobs.

During a student’s H-1B status, he or she has the option of applying for a green card, which leads to a procedural process that can be done with the help of an immigration attorney, Duggar said.

She also said another route international students can take under the third option is to change one’s visa status to a tourist/visitor status, which can last from two to six months.

After an international student has graduated, under their student visa, he or she can remain in the United States for a maximum of two months, she said.

According to Duggar, the final option international students have is to return to their home countries within 60 days.

“More and more (international) students are going back home,” Rawjee said.

She said family was a big factor for most of the international students who have decided to return home in the past.

In the past two years, Rawjee said more international students are returning home because the world economy is changing and their home countries are growing. She also said that the students are taking with them a U.S. education, which makes their market value higher.

Marquez said her goal is to eventually return to Peru and apply the knowledge she will acquire from her major to a job there.

“(However), if there is an opportunity to stay here (in the United States, I) will take that opportunity,” Marquez said.