International students usually face challenges that come from immigration hurdles during their job search, however, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, those in the class of 2020 are facing even more uncertainty.
For international students to work in the U.S., they need to acquire a work visa, apply for optional practical training and find companies that are willing to sponsor them.
Each level of the immigration process is a challenge, because it brings a lot of uncertainty for foreign students trying to work in the U.S., said Tinotenda Petros, ’20, from Zimbabwe.
“It’s also a very difficult thing for companies to sponsor students,” Petros said. “Many companies don’t have enough money or legal resources to do that.”
Petros, who will be working in New York, said he is fortunate to be a software engineer because his field has a higher demand that can’t be met by local U.S. supply.
There are more options for software engineers in the U.S., and most of the companies Petros has always been interested in have been based in America, he said.
“For my industry, the best way to sharpen my skills as a software engineer is to start by working here,” Petros said. “The U.S. also allows me to keep my options open, because if I’m considering furthering my education at some point, most of the leading graduate programs are in the U.S.”
Although some international students already have jobs lined up, even more are still searching because the options for them are much more limited, said Oi Yee Cheng, ‘15G, ’20G.
“It’s also a lot harder for international students to get a job in America without U.S. citizenship,” Cheng said. “For international students, the immigration policy seems lenient, but it’s not always the same for everyone. It may also depend on whether the field that they are in is in high demand in the nation.”
Cheng, who is from Hong Kong, said she is open to relocating to other countries as well as the U.S., but if she goes back home, the education job market will be much smaller.
Chun-yao Tseng, ’20, said working in the U.S. will provide a lot more opportunities and a better work experience, which will be beneficial no matter where he ends up in the future.
Tseng will be working in California after graduation, as opposed to working back home in Taiwan. He said many international students will be planning on staying in the U.S. because, like him, their education is most relevant to the job market here.
“My major is in accounting, so I do want to get my CPA in the U.S.,” Tseng said. “The best option for me is to work here, because what I learned at Lehigh is mainly applicable to the U.S. market.”
Raahil Amarshi, ’20, also believes his degree will be more valuable in the U.S. compared to other countries because of the economy.
Amarshi, who will be graduating with a degree in industrial systems engineering and a minor in business, will be working as a technical implementation specialist in New York.
“My experience and the degree that I’ve gotten at Lehigh is most relatable in the U.S.,” Amarshi said. “Getting some years of work experience in the same country as where I got my degree makes it easier to adapt to my job and learn what’s relevant from my coursework.”
Wenjing Wei, ’20, from China, said most of her education has been in the U.S., which makes it easier to acclimate to her job in the U.S. She will be graduating with degrees in accounting and business information systems, and plans to work in New York.
“Working in the U.S. will be a smoother transition for me, because of the culture, and my mentors and friends are all here,” Wei said. “I would get almost a reverse culture shock, because the way I interact with people and the way they do work is different in China than in the U.S.”
Cheng said there are also many benefits to going back and working at home.
Knowing the local knowledge and contacts, on top of bringing experience from America, will be very beneficial if she were to go back and work in Hong Kong, Cheng said.
Petros said his long-term goal is to go back to Africa after gaining some work experience in America.
“I think I would have a greater impact if I work in Africa in the long term, because the continent is on an exciting development and growth trajectory, and there will be high demand for the skills I am sharpening while I work here,” Petros said.
Amarshi also said he sees potential to make a difference with his work experience if he were to go back to Tanzania and work.
“I would feel more confident with my work abilities after gaining some experience to build startups and contribute to the society, which is my eventual goal,” Amarshi said.
Wei said she would consider moving back to Asia in the future, but if she were to go back directly after graduation, she wouldn’t have the support that she has here in the U.S.
Although there are some disadvantages to working in a different country, like being away from family, Lehigh has prepared her well for the working world, Wei said.
Shrivats Agarwal, ’20, a student from India who will be working in consulting, also said he has gained a lot of support from professors, staff and his fellow students.
“Lehigh has some great resources, like the alumni network or career center, that propelled me to get a good job and be the best version of myself on the professional front,” Agarwal said.
Tseng also said he believes that although Lehigh caters well to international students, there’s only so much they can do because of the different challenges each student faces.
Looking back, Petros said that he’s grateful for his Lehigh experience, because the guidance from his professors, mentors and the Office of International Affairs has made it possible for him to take the next steps.