With H-1B Visas complicating job prospects, Chinese international students struggle to find employment

The H-1B Visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.

Chinese international students are used to hearing one phrase during career fairs: “Our company does not hire international students.”

Jiayue Li, a second-year accounting graduate student, said she’s heard it several times at job fairs at Syracuse University this year. But after months spent writing cover letters and resumes, attending job information sessions and talking to recruiters, the Shenyang, China native managed to pass the first round of interviews with Ernst & Young and Deloitte, two of the "Big Four" accounting firms in the world.

“When the companies find that domestic students can work well for their positions, they will choose Americans first to save money.” -- Susan Casson

“I think I prepared well for the interviews and left the interviewer a good impression during the interviews,” Li said. “I supposed I would succeed, but I failed.”

To fulfill the accounting firms requirements, Li not only worked hard to maintain a high GPA, but also became a mentor through the Connections Program at the Slutzker Center for International Services to enhance her leadership. As a mentor, Li helped first-year international students get accustomed to the SU community academically and socially.

She tried her best to be a good candidate for companies, she said. So when she didn’t get the jobs, she was upset and frustrated.

This year, 4,004 international students are enrolled at SU, said Angelina Romano Stroup, functional business analyst at Slutzker Center. With 2,044 Chinese students among these, Chinese students are the largest group on campus aside from domestic students. But with visa issues complicating their job prospects in the U.S., many Chinese international students face pressure as they continue their job hunt.

The unemployment rate for people with a bachelor’s degree or higher education was 3.1 percent in October, according to the United States Departments of Labor, which sets it far below the nation’s overall 5.8 percent rate. But for Chinese international students looking for jobs in the U.S., this number can seem much higher because of the H-1B Visa.

The H-1B Visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations such as architecture, business, journalism, engineering, mathematics, science and medicine, according to the Department of Homeland Security website. Under the visa, a U.S. company can employ a foreign worker for up to six years.

“H-1B Visa is the main issue for Chinese students in finance and accounting to find jobs,” said Susan Casson, an associate director of employer relations working for Syracuse University Career Services.

“If companies employ international students, they will have to sponsor the H-1B Visa, which costs them about $5,000 per visa,” Casson said. “When the companies find that domestic students can work well for their positions, they will choose Americans first to save money.”

In addition, there is a risk that students will not be able to get the H-1B Visa even though the company is willing to sponsor the visa. There are 85,000 H-1B Visas in total, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. But the office received almost twice as many applications, with 172,500 in total this year. USCIS uses a lottery system to assign the H-1B Visas among all petitioners. Those who do not receive the visa lose legal status to work in the United States.

Consequently, companies do not want to hire international students because most of them hope students can work for them for a long time, Casson said.

This attitude is something that Duyang Jiang, an economic senior, said he’s encountered at several SU career fairs. 

Jiang was a former intern at Ernst & Young in Beijing, China, which was a highlight on his resume. Nonetheless, this did not help him get an interview at SU career fairs. Like other seniors, Jiang wore a business suit, spread his resume and talked to multiple recruiters continuously during the career fair.

“It is hard for us to look for a job because of our non-citizen identity,” Jiang said. “When I spoke to them, recruiters from companies like JP Morgan and Bloomberg said they wouldn’t hire international students.”

Speaking of his future career, Jiang appeared confused and diffident. “I do not know what will happen next semester. If I cannot have a job offer, I will have to return to China,” he said. “That’s my last choice.” 

Even if it is not easy to find jobs in the U.S., Chinese students should not give up, said Jing Pan, an accounting senior who has already received an offer with a H-1B Visa sponsorship from Ernst & Young.

“Maybe the competition is very fierce, but we need to have a try,” she said. If we are excellent enough to be their employees, recruiters will hire us no matter how much they will pay for the H-1B Visa.

Pan suggested Chinese students should be active at the school. “Besides academics, taking part in various activities both on campus and off campus is important. This is one way to increase your personal experience, she said.

Yingyi Ma, sociology professor at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and advisor of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, recommended that Chinese students should participate especially in professional associations on campus.

“It is a way to make friends, to meet recruiters and alumni, and to gain latest job information,” she said. “Try to build a networking relationship with employers, which will be helpful for hunting jobs.”

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