With foreign students facing job barriers, career center tries to improve their chances

Media Credit: Jamie Finkelstein | Hatchet Photographer
Eamin Zhang, a computer science master’s student, said that if he wants to get an internship or job off campus, it must be approved by the University for academic value and he can’t work for more than 20 hours a week.

Computer science master’s student Yilun Huang has years of experience coding with complex programing languages. But when he goes into job interviews, he has to ask potential employers to repeat questions and even write them down on a piece of paper, creating awkward silences as he takes time to respond.

Huang is one of 3,560 international students studying at GW this year, many of whom face language and culture barriers when applying for jobs in the U.S. And many, whose majors range from systems engineering to math, say they are underprepared.

“I think it is very difficult for international students to find a job in America, we all know that. For international students, English is not their strength,” Huang, a Chinese citizen, said.

The University, planning for a jump in foreign enrollment in the coming years, doesn’t track how often international graduates land jobs. But the Center for Career Services will launch two new programs over the next few months to help international students make the most of job fairs and write strong cover letters.

It is part of a larger remodeling of the career center to better provide help to international students, as the office trains staffers to work specifically with foreign students and partners with writing programs like English for Academic Purposes.

For years, the University has capitalized on foreign student enrollment. GW pulled in $110 million in tuition revenue from international students in 2011-2012, which surpassed Georgetown University by $40 million, according to a report last year by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

Now, to ensure a return on foreign students’ investment, the University will also start to create events like an international alumni and student networking night to help students looking for jobs connect with potential mentors.

Anne Scammon, a managing director at the career center, said the office will have to make sure the programs help the broad range of issues international students face in their job searches. She called the language barrier “an important issue” the career center will need to tackle.

She said they will have to “to build a curriculum that provides the necessary knowledge and skills for international students to successfully meet their career goals.”

Her position, which focuses on creating programs to support the strategic plan, was one of about a dozen created during the University’s career services overhaul, which has pumped millions into the center over the past two years to make hires and fund programs.

But the hurdles are already towering over international students, whose numbers will surge over the next decade at GW.

Several international students said the services need to focus on connecting students with employers who will hire non-U.S. citizens. The idea gained traction last year when one Student Association candidate vowed to start a program of career fairs each semester, solely for employers set on hiring international students.

Media Credit: Graphic by Nick Rice | Visuals Director

Because of working restrictions on international students’ visa, they have time limits on how long they can work. That makes it difficult to find internships when they do not have much control over the span of the job, graduate student Eamin Zhang said.

The computer science graduate student said he can’t get a paid internship off campus unless it’s directly related to his major. He then has to request to have it approved by the University for academic value. It also can’t be more than 20 hours a week.

“If you’re trying to get a full-time permanent job, then you need a company to sponsor your work visa, which a lot of companies do, but it can also be a big barrier since some companies have a policy of not sponsoring H-1B work visas,” Zhang said.

For years, the international student population was concentrated in the engineering school. Now, about a third of the population is spread across the business school and another third study in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

More than ever before, GW’s international student population is coming from more corners of the world than just East Asia, with hundreds coming to campus from the Middle East and India. Last year, one-third of the graduate engineering and computer science program was international, while 18 percent of the undergraduate business program came from other countries.

International student career support is already common among GW’s peers. Boston University offers career workshops and interviewing skills sessions through the center, said Beatrice Karam, assistant director for admissions and international student support services.

About 13 percent of Boston’s student body is foreign. Boston’s MBA program, for example, boasts that international students earned higher salaries in their first year and also had larger signing bonuses, according to its 2013 job report.

The international students in the program made on average $95,000 in their first year after graduating with an $18,500 signing bonus. Domestic students on average made about $2,000 less and also saw about $2,000 less in bonuses.

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