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International students face unique challenges in finding post-graduate employment

Senior Melodie Baigun isn’t just nervous about finding a job after graduation—she’s terrified.

Baigun is an international student from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is currently applying for jobs as part of her Optional Practical Training (OPT). With OPT, she has one year to work in the U.S. after graduation before she needs to apply for work visas or immigration status. 

“I just hope I can do something to pay at least half my rent,” said Baigun, a visual media arts major graduating in December 2023. 

She is looking for jobs at production companies and talent agencies, and while she wouldn’t mind staying in Boston, she would also like to go to New York City, Los Angeles, or Miami. Baigun said she feels more confident in the job recruitment process after the Career Development Center helped her craft her resume. 

“I’m still nervous, but I trust that I will get something in the future if I keep persisting,” Baigun said. “[They] kind of gave me hope.”

International students face the unique struggle of finding employment with student visas. They are restricted from working off-campus in their first academic year, and encounter particular pressure to find a job within a year after graduation with OPT. 

Yankel Gelman Montero, another senior visual media arts major graduating next spring, shares Baigun’s anxieties. 

“When I was a kid, I always had this idea that I would just go to the U.S., go to college there, and it’d be pretty easy to just continue on,” said Gelman Montero, an international student from Mexico City. “But I’ve realized how much harder immigration actually is.”

Gelman Montero is looking for production and film internships and plans on contacting the Office of International Student Affairs (OISA) after he receives an offer. His only fear applying as an international student is finding the perfect internship and not being able to do it because of additional visa and OPT paperwork. 

The college offers different support services, such as OISA and the International Student Peer Mentor program, to help international students acclimate to their new environment and succeed on and off campus.   

Andrea Popa is the director of the OISA. OISA focuses on academic support, career preparedness, and campus belonging for international students. 

“When I advise students, I really encourage them to sort of have a multi-pronged approach—a three to five-year strategy,” Popa said. “Some students definitely have strong work opportunities in their country of origin, but then others are looking in other global hubs for work in the arts industry.”

STEM graduates can receive a two-year extension for their OPT to stay in the U.S., but students majoring in creative enterprises do not have that option unless they seek higher education, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

“I think one of the things that makes it tricky for Emerson students in particular is that our students are in the arts,” Popa said. “Because half of our international students are visual media arts students and the other half are in other creative industries, sometimes that work visa is not the best fit for people that might be self-employed or in a creative industry.”

Popa’s office offers assistance when applying for work visas and post-OPT employment. She said that, this year, there was a “record number” of applicants for the H-1B work visa, which is a non-immigrant visa that allows graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent to attain temporary (1-2 years) employment after their one year of OPT is over. 

Compared to the 301,447 registrations in 2022, there were 474,421 applicants in 2023, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Students who finished their OPT and could not receive either an H-1B visa or immigration status likely had to return to their home country. 

While there are many resources on campus for international students, senior Beatriz Cabral Leite feels like she’s been passed from office to office. Cabral Leite, a journalism major from Sao Paulo, Brazil, said academic advisors need more training on how to help international students. 

“It’s an exhausting process,” Cabral Leite said. She felt that the Office of Academic Advising could not address the unique academic needs of international students. 

Popa said OISA offers services that are more “tailored” to international students that can help with their unique challenges, like immigration and employment. At the Career Development Center, Emi Bague is a liaison for international students and can help connect them to alumni and employers. 

“I want to encourage international students to start networking early and engaging in career-related events sooner than later,” Bague said. “This allows them to practice communication skills and tell their professional story long before an actual interview for a job close to graduation.”

Students can find career events and schedule appointments on Handshake and can also network with alumni on Emerge. 

“I recommend reaching out [to the Career Development Center] for a one-on-one appointment so I can learn where they are at, what they know, and what they need,” Bague said. “I’m here to point them in a direction that makes sense for them in whatever stage they’re at in their internship and job searches or their professional development.” 

Read More : Berkeleybeacon 

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