Editor’s note: It’s the graduation season! While it is an exciting time for many, it can also be challenging and confusing. What’s next? Like many American students are considering their future and job options at this time, Chinese students are facing an even more complex decision – to stay or not stay? We hope today’s post will help you better understand the reality Chinese students face after graduation and thus to know how to encourage them during this time.

This week as I walked around the campus, I have seen many students in their graduation robes joyfully posing for pictures with family and friends. No matter the time and effort spent – from four years of undergraduate study, two years of Master’s work, to five or more years to pursue a PhD – they have achieved much to overcome academic and cultural challenges to receive a degree in the U.S. Yet what lies ahead after graduation? My Chinese friend, Jay, told me that she wanted to find a job and work in the U.S. for couple years to gain overseas working experience before moving back. In recent years, many U.S. companies have been having an increased need for employees with Chinese language and cultural competency. Some multinational companies will even want to develop a Chinese employee first in the U.S. and then send them to their Chinese branches. There are exciting opportunities for Chinese graduates. On the other hand, there have also been increasing challenges for Chinese students to stay. From some of the students I know, it could take some students up to a year to find a full-time job. Some felt discouraged and decided to move home after several months of fruitless searching. Here are three major challenges Chinese students face after graduation:

  1. Visa Restriction: When an international student finishes his study he can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) which is a working authorization that allows him to work in a field related to his major for 1 year (or 3 years if he was in a STEM program). But to maintain the status of OPT, an international student can not be unemployed for more than 90 days cumulatively. Part-time or volunteer job, either paid or unpaid is acceptable as long as the work is related to the student’s major[1]. In order to work longer than the duration of  an OPT, a company needs to sponsor the student with H-1B working visa. Since H1-B visa has limited quota every year, there is a lottery process to decide who gets the chance to apply for this visa. So some eligible students might not be chosen to apply for the visa at all. Even if he/she does, there is still a strict process to go through. Because of the uncertainty and the expensive lawyer and visa application fee, many employers do not want to hire internationals. Students with STEM majors are easier than others with finance, business or media communication major. A recent graduate with Journalism major found that very few media companies are willing to sponsor H-1B visa.
  2. Lack of Language and Cultural Competency: In schools where there are a lot of Chinese students, some of them did not step out of their comfort zone to practice English or learn American culture, either due to lack of motivation or lack of opportunities. Other than taking classes in English, many of them live with Chinese roommates, study and hangout with only Chinese friends. So their incompetence in English becomes a roadblock in job searching (especially in the field that requires more language skills, like business and law).  
  3. Limited Time Window and Job Opportunities: Another challenge that has become more prevalent in recent years is the loss of career opportunities in China. It is extremely difficult to find jobs back home for someone who decides to stay in the U.S. after graduation first. More and more companies in China are either hiring recent graduates or someone with several years of working experience in China. Most jobs for recent graduates are available only in early fall or early spring the following year. If someone misses these two windows, he or she will have a much harder time to find a job. For example, my friend Eva, who stayed in the U.S. for 8 months after her graduation in May to look for a job. She could not find one job and decided to return in January so that she could take advantage of the spring recruitment. But the job market is tough. She does not have as many opportunities now, as she would have if she had gone back at an earlier time. So a Chinese student really has to calculate the cost if they want to stay in the U.S.

After the joyful moments of graduation, your Chinese friends might be facing similar challenges and dilemmas. I hope this articles gives you a glimpse of their world and helps you know how to come alongside them.

[1]Disclaimer: For more information about visas, please refer to USCIS website. This is just for informational purpose.

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