• Sat
  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 6:01am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Short-sighted US driving out brightest foreign graduates

Victoria Sung says current laws make it almost impossible to find a job

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 1:21am

Last year, I left New York after living and studying there to obtain my master's. I loved the city, its people, its frenetic pace, vibrant history, eccentric characters and raw energy, but when it came to leaving, I knew I had made the right choice.

Those looking to survive in the US have to deal with an excruciating job search and, in the case of New York, rent that grows exponentially each year. This is the reality for newly graduated students. Now add the complication of being an international student.

The response from some Americans was vitriolic, many telling me to return to home

Like most international students in the US, I held "F-1" status, which qualified me for 12 months of Optional Practical Training after graduation, allowing me to work full-time for any employer in my field. But international graduates are given only three months to find employment, which is essentially a death knell in today's job market, where the unemployment rate among new graduates is 53 per cent.

The 12-month period (18 months for those in a science, technology, engineering and maths programme) is a deterrent to organisations looking to hire an international student; smaller companies and non-profits often don't have the budget or resources to sponsor the graduate after the 12 months. As a result, many students leave after years of specialised training at top American universities.

This is a real problem that is at last getting the attention of employers and educators. Last year, the presidents of 122 American universities, including my alma mater, signed a petition to President Barack Obama requesting a change in the legislation. The letter calls for the administration to amend the laws that often give students no choice but to return home after their education is completed.

The universities claim that international students provide much of the fuel needed for innovative thinking - according to the petition, 75 per cent of patents issued to the top 10 per cent of American universities had been credited to foreign-born innovators. The letter says: "After we have trained and educated these future job creators, our antiquated immigration laws turn them away to work for our competitors in other countries."

The university presidents seem to understand that the students who come to their schools are often the best and the brightest of their countries.

When I initially wrote about this issue on my blog, the response from some Americans was vitriolic, many telling me to return to my home country and accusing me of "buying" my degree. Some even spoke about how immigrants were "stealing" good American jobs.

It seems like there is a knee-jerk reaction to migration to America, even if it is legal, and it has been getting worse. Since the Boston marathon bombings, the US has tightened its international student policy, including airport checks and stricter verification of visas.

This does nothing to protect American job opportunities. The solution to a weak economy may well lie with one of the many international students leaving the country. Isn't it in the country's best interests to keep the talent they have spent time and resources on to train?

The fear and uncertainty surrounding the unknown is understandable, given recent events and an unstable economy. But the current attitude towards international students in America is short-sighted. And that is why I chose to leave New York, even though I admire the city and its people. It is the country's policy that I do not want to support, or a government that panders to fear-mongering and ignorance.

I only hope that other places, including Hong Kong, have the foresight to keep bright young minds engaged in their societies, to bring about positive change using their education, intellect and enthusiasm.

Victoria Sung holds a master's degree in media, culture and communications from New York University and is the founder of Meanwhile in China


Related topics

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

haha shut your mouth
america put a man on the moon with zero help from you, i think they will survive
go innovate in china
you see the worthless degree this woman has-masters in media and culture-give me a break
who would hire you?
HK does not want or need mainlanders in our Universities, or over-stay after they've graduated. If a public poll is taken, the message will be a resounding "GO HOME" asap, or don't bother coming to take advantage of our education system in the first place.
I agree with the Americans that this Chinese student should return to work in China. They should work for their country of origin. China needs them more than the US. And the mainland needs them more than HK.
Another "what's wrong with America" propaganda piece from the People's Daily. Why ruin the SCMP with this krap...who does this serve?
Your talents will be much more appreciated by your own country, so it is best to return
That's great Victoria Sung, you have the best situation to take the excellent foreign education that your country paid for to help develop your country. Why complain as if it was always in China's plan to send you abroad, educate you, then spend your talents helping the US compete. Now, as for your opinion that only the brightest and the best from China are sent abroad, that may have been true in the mid 1980s. However, I've seen too many rich, lackluster, spoilt Chinese kids get into the best named schools in the US using these brokers who cheat and bribe their way in. In fact, famous schools have special "Chinese" programs where for $50,000 USD for 9 months, you too can get a MS in computer science, no questions asked. All of your classmates will be Chinese, you won't even need to speak English. I wonder how industry will sort out a degree from Carnegie Mellon earned the old fashioned way from one printed from one of these new "Chinese" express programs. How much can you learn in 9 months anyway? I mean for computer science.
Here's my stance on immigration: I don't care where you are from. It is irrelevant. If you pull your weight, contribute to the local community and society, adapt your lifestyle in a way that agrees with the local population, perhaps introduce something that the locals would like to try, I have no qualms with you being here--in fact, I would welcome you to my home city. By contrast, if you are here just to be loud and cannot be asked to earn your living when you can, or not even try to find work, relying on social welfare, and yet strut about as if you own the place, even if you are local, I would not respect you. I would find you disgusting, your behaviour appalling, and would like nothing to do with you. Best if you left.
The truth is, there is plenty wrong with the USA. Even its own scholars are seeing tell-tale signs, symptoms exhibited by all the great empires in history, when they begin to collapse.
Self-respect yourself
Self-respect your fellow countrymen
Self-respect your own country
Otherwise no one would respect you.
15 minutes of observations and postulations
before I turn to practical matters requiring my attention
The US can’t afford retaining any but the brightest foreign students
The brightest never have any visa / immigration problem anywhere
Their problem is to choose which academic or industrial offers to accept
I know such examples
We may discuss how to measure brightness some other time
Developed countries in a recession,
the time for coherence building and not diversity experimenting,
can’t afford foreign competitions in their upper middle class
Understandable policy of democratic governments
Foreigners work harder because of their resource-deficient background
They may out-compete locals in career developments
not because of intelligence but because of labor / focus
But V Sung is right about HK’s need to retain bright “foreign” students
most of which are from China
some of them may help show local students how to be educated citizens and not disciplined colonial subjects
Foreign students' may be admitted for various reasons
which ultimately must serve the overall purpose of local benefit
which in a democracy, is decided by the majority of its nationals


SCMP.com Account