US isolationism offers NEO regional opportunity, if we think global

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 01/16/2005 - 14:52.

There is a fascinating article in the 01/16/05 NY Times on the challenges outstanding international students have finding jobs in the US. Considering the US is an immigrant-based economy and, except for Native Americans, we're all relatively recent transplants, the current "lock the gates" federal policy is probably the most harmful to the US economy of any of the current administration - we are not importing knowledge workers, at a time when the world is eclipsing us in brainpower. As you read on you'll see, there's Ivy League brainpower all over the world and some of it wants to work in America - foolish US policy is keeping it out, driving US companies to send work abroad, as other economies gain competitive advantages over the US. Perhaps smart leaders in NEO can excel as world-experts in bringing global brainpower here, as a unique value of NEO. Tell me, why not! Read on...

U.S. Jobs Becoming Scarcer for Students From Abroad

Published: January 16, 2005

SUSANNA HUANG appeared to have credentials that almost any company would find strongly desirable in a job candidate. Ms. Huang, a second-year M.B.A. student at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University, has maintained a 3.9 average, has five years of experience at a management consulting firm and speaks both English and Mandarin

But after six interviews and a prestigious internship at a Fortune 500 electronics company, she has yet to receive a job offer. As Ms. Huang is discovering, this is an especially difficult time to find employment as an international student.

"There are less companies hiring international students," said Trudy Steinfeld, executive director of career services at New York University. "It's a huge hurdle. Many come here so enthusiastic, wanting a job in the American workplace. But they're having a difficult time. It can be heartbreaking."

Along with the emotional turmoil, red tape makes life for foreign students more difficult, school officials say. The biggest problem is that for fiscal year 2004, Congress cut the number of work visas by two-thirds, to 65,000 from 195,000, heightening already intense competition. Foreign students are dependent on employers to sponsor and help them get these visas, which allow them to continue working for three years after their student visa and "optional practical training" visa expire.

That last visa allows students 12 months of internship or work experience that can be used before or after graduation.

Ms. Steinfeld and other career professionals said some companies had cut back sharply on hiring international students. Many foreign students said they were finding the job market less hospitable, especially when contrasted to the heady 1990's. Ms. Steinfeld said that while most American students can allot 2 to 6 months for a search, international students should give themselves at least 10 months.

Years of a downsizing economy have also hurt job prospects, as companies find it more difficult to justify hiring foreign-born students. Some counselors have started advising foreign students to consider returning home to work.

In the 2003-4 academic year, the foreign student population dropped 2.4 percent, to 572,509, according to the Open Doors Report from the Institute of International Education in New York.

Michaela Jacova, a Slovakian native who is a Princeton University senior majoring in political science at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, arrived a week before Sept. 11, 2001. She has been a strong student, held summer internships around the world and speaks four languages. But she was disheartened by the results of on-campus recruiting interviews in the fall and the harsher realization that many companies refused even to meet with her.

"I never thought it would be different for me, but I'm slowly realizing that to a certain extent we're at a disadvantage," Ms. Jacova said about international students. "Many companies don't want to hire us because of sponsorship issues. They consider it inconvenient, too much paperwork."

Ms. Jacova said that some of her recent interviews were uncomfortable. There was the recruiter who told her he was surprised that she had no detectable accent.

And her unfamiliarity with American private schools, she said, put her at a cultural disadvantage in a second interview. The recruiter asked her to solve a hypothetical problem regarding an American private school. Because she grew up in Slovakia, her frame of reference was government-administered education, and she said she felt she did not come up with the answer the recruiter wanted.

Cultural differences are hardly new, but career development professionals say they always create an important gap for foreign students to overcome. Both Ms. Jacova and Ms. Huang say they are less adept than their American counterparts at selling themselves aggressively.

Danielle Hopkins, assistant director of international graduate career development at the Fisher College of Business, said foreign students must work harder to achieve the same goals as domestic students.

(Page 2 of 2)

While internships are always important, she said, they are especially crucial for international graduates. An internship that allows an employer to appreciate a student's talent increases the chance that the organization will sponsor that student for a temporary work visa. She advises students to be flexible about returning home if finding work in the United States is not possible.

Globalization is making that a more palatable option, said Allan E. Goodman, president and chief executive of the Institute of International Education. Mr. Goodman said that Chinese and Indian students were finding it easier and more desirable to return home after graduating from American universities.

Ernst & Young, the accounting firm, has established a big presence in China and is seeking to recruit American-educated Chinese who speak Mandarin and are interested in returning home. The firm continues to interview international students but does not track how many it hires, said Dan Black, a recruiting leader for Ernst & Young's Americas practice.

Mr. Black said the decline in work visas had made it crucial for his organization and foreign students to start the paperwork six months earlier than in the past. This year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services filled the 65,000-worker visa quota on Oct. 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.

Mr. Black said that Ernst & Young treated all job candidates with respect, but some international students have said they felt that other organizations did not always do the same.

"I don't know if they feel they're being treated outwardly hostile, but there's a subtext that those with Middle Eastern names aren't really being considered," Ms. Steinfeld of N.Y.U. said. "It's a reality that like most of the population, recruiters are more suspicious of Middle Eastern-sounding names."

Shafaq Khan, 20, a Columbia University sophomore, agrees with that assessment. Reared in Saudi Arabia but a graduate of an American high school, she is a naturalized citizen (her father is an American citizen) and thus does not have to be concerned with frustrating visa issues. She is planning to become an investment banker and is searching for an internship with a small venture capital firm.

In the process, she said, she has encountered patronizing interviewers. One asked, with surprise, "Why do you speak English so well?"

"I'm sometimes met with skepticism and suspicion about my background," she said. "I feel I'm always justifying and explaining."

Even with the frustration that some international students feel, there are stories of success. Administrators say that exceptions are often those students with specialized skills or degrees. Shern Frederick, 21, a Princeton senior from Trinidad and Tobago, just received his first offer, from an energy and utility company in Houston, as an energy trading analyst. He has not decided whether to accept.

Mr. Frederick, who studied operations research and financial engineering, said finding companies that would interview him at all had been the toughest part. Even though he appreciates his good fortune in being offered a job early, he recalls the sting of an incident at a Houston airport several years ago.

"A customs officer approached me, and when I showed him my student visa, he was skeptical," Mr. Frederick said. " 'Where do you go to school?' he asked me twice. I said, 'Princeton.' He asked, 'Are you sure?' It was unbelievable."Â