How attainable is the “American Dream”? Nobody didn’t say anything about OPTs, working visas and how to get sponsored by a U.S. company. If you’re thinking about staying in the U.S. after graduation, you can’t miss reading Hellen’s article to learn some quick lessons about the immigration process.
Hellen Oti-Yeboah is from Accra, Ghana and graduated in May 2011 with a degree in international business from Arcadia University. She wrote the following article for International Student Voice.
It is nothing new to hear someone migrate to the United States with the hope of “living the American Dream” or trying to get to the greener pastures on the other side of the bridge. Once in while we hear of an inspirational story from someone who has been able to beat all the odds of traveling into a new country to make ends meet, then it gives hope to others who are struggling to make it. Many international students just like other immigrants, may travel abroad to the United States not to just study, but also with the hope of making a better living some day in the States.
I always thought that my case would be different, that since I had education I would easily escape the troubles of an immigrant. Little did I know that trying to make it in a foreign land can be challenging regardless of the type of the formal training or education that you have. Before I go on to explain some of the challenges that an international student may go through after getting a degree in the United States, I will like to say that, this article is not to discourage anyone from trying to reach their goals. It only to make you aware of how difficult it can be to trying to “beat the system.”
As an international student provided that one stays in status after graduation, there is the option of applying for Optical Practical Training (OPT) which allows the student to work for about a year in the United States with any employer that they so choose. Students with majors that fulfill the STEM fields which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math have the option of extending their OPT to about 17 months. The option to work in the United States after graduation, sounded just perfect since I wanted to gain experience working here for a number of years. So just like everyone else who sets out to find a job, I started filling out applications online and sending my resume out. My professor from my internship class advised us that it was important for us to start our job search early if we wanted to be employed immediately after school. I followed his advice and I started sending out applications about two months before graduation. My efforts were rewarded as I was able to get a phone interview with a company close by, and a face to face interview with a firm in New Jersey. As with many recent graduands I did not get the first few jobs that I interviewed for. However, since I had my interview scheduled and I was pretty confident, or at least I had the hope that I could get a job on my first try, I scheduled my OPT to start the day after graduation. Which meant that my clock started ticking the day after I was done smiling for my graduation pictures and celebrating with my family and friends. I was still optimistic about my job prospects in the U.S especially since I was a business major.
I kept applying jobs and I got some interviews, but I still did not get a job. Then I started questioning myself. I wondered if I was doing the wrong things during interviews, if I did not sound convincing enough, or perhaps if my resume did not look good. So went back and I tried to do my homework, rewriting my resume, letting the career center at my school help. Then, preparing every way that I could to make sure that the next time I had an interview I was ready. Funny enough, when I was “ready” to go for any interview I stopped getting interviews although I was filling out applications all day. Until one day I got an email scheduling a phone interview with a firm located at King of Prussia, PA . I was ecstatic! I prepared for my phone interview really excited about the possibility of finally getting a job. I believe I did well during my interview up until the end of the interview, when the interviewer asked me the question “what is your status is the United States.” I gladly replied; “ I am an F-1 student with a work permit to work in the U.S for a year. Then they asked; “will the company need to sponsor you after the year?” I replied; “yes, they will have to if they want to keep me on afterward but for now, I have a work permit.” The interviewer ended the conversation right after I had said this and told me that they would be getting back to me in a few days. About five minutes later, I got an email from the interviewer saying that the company could not sponsor me. I had never thought about the fact that I would face a big obstacle finding a job because company’s may not want to sponsor international students who had their OPT for an H-1B work visa.
Everything started falling in place after that phone call. I had answered yes to the question that appeared on many job applications that asked “will you now or in the future require sponsorship?” I had not been getting job interviews because many companies automatically eliminated candidates like me just by answering yes. A few weeks later I got some automated emails saying that I could not be considered further for some positions that I had applied to because they could not offer sponsorship. I realized that all that I could do was to apply and hope that one of the firms that apply to will be willing to at least give me a try for one year.
It’s August now as write this, about three months since I graduated, and three months that I should have been using my OPT. I still haven’t found a job that is willing to sponsor me, or that will allow me to work for the duration of my OPT. I took the initiative to apply for an unpaid marketing internship to gain experience in the meantime rather than brooding over my current situation. I will like to entreat anyone in a similar situation not to give up and stay positive (although it may be tough). Remember that, as an international student trying to find a job you may have to apply to 10x more jobs, and hope 100x much more that one employer decides to look beyond the paperwork of sponsoring a foreign worker.
Update as of October 25, 2011: Hellen currently interns at Arcadia University in the College of Global Studies and works as a marketing/public relations consultant on the side. She is still looking for a U.S. company to sponsor her working visa.