Like many Chinese students who come to the U.S. for college, Xiayang Lin is getting ready to graduate from Penn State and go to work — not in China but in America.
Lin, who is from Beijing and goes by the name Sunny, is a 23-year-old geosciences major with a materials science minor in Penn State’s graduate school. She came in July 2013 after majoring in gemology at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, China.
Lin says she thinks having work experience in America and a degree from Penn State will make her resume stand out when she does return home.
After graduating in July, she plans to work for three to five years at the Gemological Institute of America, a nonprofit institute for research and education in gemology and the jewelry arts. It has offices in Carlsbad, Calif., and New York. Eventually, she wants to own her own jewelry business in China.
Her approach is not unusual for Chinese graduates of U.S. universities.
“An undergrad degree from the U.S. will no longer land you a good job in China anymore because so many people have them,” said Fei Peng, a 2012 Penn State graduate who works for GE Capital in Stamford, Conn.
“It makes sense for people to either pursue a master’s degree — sometimes two — or try to find a job where the company offers a working visa like mine does,” Peng said in an email.
Peng is taking his own advice, pursuing an MBA at New York University while working at GE, in order to stand out in when he returns to China in a few years.
Students like Lin who want to stay in America and work after graduating from a U.S. undergraduate or a graduate program can apply to the federal government for optional practical training.
OPT is only available for students who have been pursuing degrees for more than nine months and those pursuing work in their major field. In the three months it can take to obtain OPT, the student must find work.
Lin said she planned to apply for her OPT in April in order to work at the Gemological Institute. The maximum time allowed to work under an OPT is 12 months, but extensions can be sought.
For those who plan to work in America for a longer time, there is the H-1B visa. It’s for non-immigrants and allows U.S. companies to hire international workers in fields such as engineering, mathematics, science, medicine and architecture. The visa is valid for up to six years; a maximum of 85,000 are issued each year.
This visa is popular because it is quicker to get than a green card, which allows the holder to live and work in the U.S. permanently. While holding an H-1B visa, a worker can apply for a green card.
Some U.S. companies do the visa legwork for international workers they want to hire, as GE did for Peng.
Peng, who came to America when he was 15, graduated from Penn State as an information sciences and technology major with a minor in economics. He started working for GE Capital, a personal finance and leasing company, right after graduation.
Peng said he was able to get an internship at GE in his junior year after attending an IST career fair. He said he later got interviews for full-time jobs with GE and 10 other companies and received multiple job offers. He chose GE because of the strong network he had with the company and its leadership program.
Working in America not only benefits international workers but also their companies, according to a 2011 job outlook survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
International students tend to demonstrate qualities and skills most companies look for because of their commitment and persistence to achieve at U.S. universities, the survey reported. Those skills include communication, a strong work ethic, flexibility, adaptability, teamwork and technical abilities, it said.
The national Career Development Association provides assistance for international students when they transition into the workforce. In addition to visa information and transition resources, it provides lists of potential sponsoring employers, occupational outlooks and job opportunities.
At Penn State, international students are encouraged to attend career fairs, as Peng did. International students about to graduate who are looking for jobs in America can also meet with career services counselors.
“Our career counselors help coach the students on how to best design and implement a thorough job search plan,” said Robert Orndorff, senior director of central administration at Career Services. “Each international student’s situation is unique.”