The US has long held a reputation as home to some of the finest academic institutions in the world, with roughly one million international students currently attending school in the country. In the past year and a half, that number has decreased significantly due to COVID-related delays and US Citizenship and Immigration Services restrictions.
How COVID Lockdowns Decreased Opportunities
The goal of many international students is to land a job in the US as soon after graduation as possible. Obtaining the necessary work permits is often a lengthy and complicated process that requires extensive planning. Many students begin obtaining the required permits and searching for a job an entire year or more before graduation.
However, COVID lockdowns curtailed the ability for much of this necessary planning. Surprisingly, while international travel restrictions played a role, many students were affected by travel limits within the US. Students don’t often end up working in the same city as where they attended college, so when they graduate, they often need to move across the country – but doing so proved difficult if not impossible.
Aside from the logistics of moving cross-country during a pandemic, international students faced other significant obstacles. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services delayed processing Employment Authorization Documents and Optional Practical Training applications beginning in January. Without these documents, international students could not work in the US legally, and in some cases, even lost jobs they’d already received.
The Hurdles International Students Face in Finding US-Based Work
All recent grads face obstacles when searching for a job after graduation. Two of the most common issues are a lack of in-school networking opportunities and services and the marketability of specific degrees.
International students often face additional problems, including obtaining an H-1B visa. Government and education-related issues can even conflict. For example, H-1B visas are usually issued to students with STEM degrees, meaning those with different degrees are disadvantaged.
Additionally, COVID introduced a new unfortunate element for many international students, especially those from Asian countries. Anti-Asian hate crimes rose steadily across the US, increasing dangers and discrimination with Asian heritage.
Are Employers Interested in International Students?
Employers’ willingness to hire international students is inconsistent. In 2018, employers were rarely willing to handle the additional responsibility and compliance issues related to hiring a non-US citizen. According to surveys from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, eagerness has increased in the past few years.
“Employers assume a lot of responsibility when hiring an international student,” said attorney Jim Hacking. “Without an H-1B visa, most recent grads can only work for one to three years, which means employers could invest in someone only to lose the ability to employ them long-term.”
The current uncertainty will likely have unexpected repercussions felt across the US university system. Restrictions and difficulty finding US-based employment could result in a decrease in international students. When accounting for the time of schooling and then a subsequent job search, the effects of reduced applications could take five years or more to show an impact on the job market.