International students seek jobs, opportunities for visa

By: Poliana Guimarães / Contributing Writer

While her classmates counted the days until graduation, Lais Silva, 21, a hospitality and management student, worried about what she will do once school was over.

Silva is one of many of the 2,500 international students at Florida International University who agree that the most difficult part in being an international student is finding a job and staying in the country.

“At the moment, I am focusing on school,” Silva said. “But starting next semester [spring], I will be looking for a job, and hopefully they will be willing to be my sponsor in the future.”

The F-1 visa, which is the student visa, allows students to work only on campus while enrolled in school. But the salary on campus is low and the price of tuition is almost four times the cost of in-state tuition.

“I think it’s absurd to pay four times more than any other student,” said Karine Degani, 23, an international student from Brazil. “I take the same classes, with the same professors, and have nothing in my advantage.”

Once students graduate, they can register for a program called Optional Practical Training, which gives them permission to work for a full year.

When the OPT period is over, students must find a job in a company that is willing to sponsor their H-1B visa, the work visa. This is a tough mission to accomplish, as many companies do not find it valuable to pay the high cost of sponsoring a visa when they can just hire someone who is already a resident.

Issam Attalah, 21, an industrial and systems engineering student from Lebanon, said he already has two job opportunities but they will only discuss sponsorship with him after the OPT period.

“I plan on staying here to gain more experience in my field and eventually go back home,” he said.

Attalah’s case is a rare one, as more international students decide they don’t want to go back home; instead they want to build a life in the United States and practice their careers here.

“After graduating this spring, I plan on staying in the United States and using my work permit to work here,” Silva said. “My goal is to look for a job in my field and learn more about hospitality in Miami.”

Degani said she changed her mind after experiencing life in the United States.

“For the first two years that I studied here, I always thought about going back to Brazil, but now I want to stay,” she said. “First, because I think I will have more opportunities here, and also because I am already used to my routine in the United States. I don’t think I will get used to living in Brazil again.”

Some students are fortunate enough to engage in relationships during this process and eventually get married. This was the case with Philip Leake, 27, who met his wife while in college. He got married last year and is now getting his documents through her.

“I am very privileged to have found my wife,” he said. “Not only does she make my life happier, but as a bonus, she is helping me get my residency.”

There are also many cases of paid marriages, where students pay large amounts of money to American citizens in exchange for a marriage license that leads to legal residency.

And, unfortunately, there are the students who can’t keep paying the high tuition costs and decide that they would rather be illegal in the United States than returning to their native country.

FIU has been making a big effort to help international students find the right job after graduation.

Through the Career Services office and job fairs throughout the year, students are informed about numerous job openings and opportunities.

Rodrigo Menezes, 33, who graduated from FIU in 2000 in mechanical engineering, said that through FIU’s job fair, he was able to get a few job interviews.

“Finding a job in the year 2000 was not as hard as it is today,” Menezes said. “Although I definitely had a big disadvantage since not all companies were willing to sponsor the H-1B visa, I knew that my future was in God’s hands.”

Through the FIU Careers Services web site, he found the job opening with the company that not only hired him but also sponsored his H-1B visa. Last month he had his 10-year anniversary with the company.

As for Lais Silva, she says she is excited to know the opportunities that are coming her way.

“I have grown so much in these three years that I have been in the United States,” she said. “I am not only more mature and responsible, but also I feel that now I know what I want for the future. Being an international student is an amazing opportunity and I’m very happy I can live it.”

Poliana Guimarães, a December 2010 journalism graduate, produced this story in the JOU 3303 Advanced News Writing course taught by Dr. Fred Blevens.

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