Throughout the first half of fall semester, many students flock to On-Campus Recruitment tables, flooding recruitment officers with endless questions about job descriptions, pay, and benefits. For those international students who make up about twelve percent of Penn’s undergraduate population, this list of concerns always comes with an additional one — visa status.
International students who wish to stay in the United States must take their post-graduation visa statuses into consideration. For many, visa status plays a significant role in selecting majors, as well as potential job opportunities.
To stay in the United States, most international students need the H-1B visa, which requires visa applicants to find a sponsor, usually a prospective employer. Many students in the humanities, however, find it can be especially difficult to find employers willing to sponsor them.
Hong Kong citizen and College sophomore Rachel Liu said her visa status has been an urgent factor in both what career and major she will choose.
“I want to be prudent about how I can make my employment opportunities in the U.S. more smooth,” Liu said. “[International students] need more provable hard skills that allow us to extend our working visa.”
Liu, who was initially more drawn to politics and economics during her freshman year, is now considering pursuing a STEM degree while taking Wharton classes in marketing, business economics, and public policy. She said making this switch would give her skills that would make her more employable after Penn.
“Essentially a STEM degree will allow me to extend my visa by a few years,” she said, adding that she’s “noticed a trend of international students being more ‘practical.'"
For Canadian native and Wharton junior Cherry Zhi, the issue of a visa is not a preliminary concern. Zhi, a former Daily Pennsylvanian staff member, described herself as “quite clueless about the whole process,” and said her Canadian citizenship makes it easier for her to get a visa compared to students from other countries.
“I think the most important factor is how okay you would be to go back to your country,” said a College sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous due to her current visa status.
She added that staying in the United States has been a priority and a stressor since coming to Penn.
“If you really don’t want to go [back] to your country, you’ll be more on the safe side [if you] choose a major that would really let you get a visa," she said.
Australian citizen and College senior Catherine Said said she has always been open to returning to her country, so attaining a visa was not important for her until this year.
“I very much thought that I may want to leave after I graduate and go somewhere new but as I approach graduation I realized I want to stay,” said Said, who cited friends as a primary reason to stay.
“I think the turning point was coming into senior year and realizing I might be approaching the end.”
Being from Australia also gives Said an advantage in the visa process. Had she been from another country with stricter visa laws, Said might not have had the opportunity to stay post-college.
“I think I may be in a bit of a different situation from some international students because Australia has a specific agreement,” Said said. “It’s such a complicated system.”
Overall, the issue of a visa is specific to each individual student, Liu said.
“If we want a job here we have to increase our chances of getting it here,” Liu said. “It comes down to what the international student wants.”
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