Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Woes of an international student

In the U.S., international students enter on an F-1 visa. This visa is issued specific to the university the student is admitted to. It is valid as long as the student is enrolled full time in university. During this time, the student is not allowed to work off-campus. Even on-campus, they are only allowed to work maximum of 20 hours per week.

As can be expected, the international students face a lot of hardship due to lack of employment opportunities. Currently, I intend on going to the Saint Mary's University of Minnesota for my Masters in Information Technology Management. I have been issued the F1 visa (along with all its restrictions!). Fortunately, I am able to sustain myself as well as pay for the tuition due to my family's sponsorship. At the same time, I would like to work simultaneously so when I graduate, I also have some experience on my resume. Since all my classes are in the evening, the degree is meant for people working and studying at the same time.

After doing some research for the past couple of months, I realized there is a very slim chance of me being able to work at all. SMU doesn't have any jobs available on-campus for students. Another option is CPT (Curriculum Practical Training), which is allowance of doing an internship during my degree. But, I can't be issued a CPT until I finish at least two semesters of college.

The other option is I get myself a proper job and change my visa status. To be able to work a full-time job, non-U.S. citizens need to be on an H-1B visa. This visa is sponsored by the company offering a job and it is only valid for working at that company. The company also needs to show to the government that they require this particular individual because they could not find an American national suitable for the job. As can be expected, very few companies are willing to go through this hassle unless absolutely necessary.

Another obstacle to the H-1B visa category is the limited number of visas issued. The fiscal year of U.S. runs from 1st October to 30th September. Each year, the H-1B visas are issued are valid during this fiscal year. They begin accepting applications from 1st April and run until the quota lasts. In 2011, the quota was set to 65000 which was filled on 22nd November. This year, as of 18th May, they had already issued 42000 visas out of 65000 visas. It can be safely assumed that they will fulfill the quota this year by July. Assuming I could get a job when I get there, I would still not be able to get an H-1B visa until 1st Oct 2013!

One more option I recently came up with was that I could do online freelance jobs, like Freelancer, oDesk, vWorker etc. These would probably not pay a lot, but would give me a lot of experience as well as keep me busy. According to the Happy Schools Blog, even those low-paying jobs are not allowed on an F-1 visa! Today, I just found out that even the pennies I might earn from ad programs like AdSense, would not be allowed!

Therefore, I've realized that I will have to stick to my college degree, even if that means staying idle. Unfortunately, despite having a degree after two years, I will not have any experience.

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