Hong Kong science/tech graduates in US can now work there 3 years

Extension from one year to three of permit scheme for foreigners graduating in STEM subjects from American universities opens the way for them to gain residency in the US

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 April, 2016, 1:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 April, 2016, 1:50pm

Hong Kong science students attending American universities can now work in the US for up to three years after completing their studies.

A new rule which goes into effect on May 10 will extend the optional practical training (OPT) scheme for foreign graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by two years from the current 12 months. The OPT period for non-STEM graduates remains at one year.

“The permits will pave way for foreign graduates to gain residency in the US after maintaining a stable job for a number of years and fulfilling requirements. But it’s also exciting, as our graduates can bring back to Hong Kong their valuable experience from working abroad,” says Willy Kwong Wai-li, chairman of the Hong Kong International Education Consultants’ Association (HKIEC).

It’s ... exciting, as our graduates can bring back to Hong Kong their valuable experience from working abroad
Willy Kwong

In 2008, the US administration gave overseas students with STEM degrees an extra 17 months on top of the regular OPT scheme. But a US federal judge put it on hold following a legal challenge by American technology sector workers last year, ruling that officials had not followed proper procedure in issuing the extension.

After a period for public comment on an OPT extension, the Department of Homeland Security recently confirmed that foreign STEM graduates can stay on in the US for an extra 24 months on top of the usual 12 months for practical training.

With poor job prospects for Chinese students, is it still worth investing in a US education?

Australia, Canada and New Zealand offer foreign graduates in all disciplines work permits of between two and four years. However, in 2012 Britain withdrew its two-year post-study work visa for non-EU foreign students. The policy now limits their stay to only four months after graduation, discouraging many foreign students from enrolling in British universities.

Kwong also alerts prospective students to an “international year one diploma” now being offered by a number of US east coast colleges – the University of Massachusetts and Northeastern University, for instance.

British and Australian universities have long operated intensive one-year programmes for foreign students who are weak in English or other subjects, to help them catch up with others in the second year. But the year-one scheme is relatively new in American universities.

In the past, many Hong Kong students going to the US would first spend two years earning an associate degree from community colleges in California before transferring to institutions within the University of California (UC) system.

In the past, this arrangement has worked well for both sides: UC classes in requisite core programmes such as English 1A and 1B tend to be very overcrowded, so university administrators prefer students to take earn those credits at community colleges and transfer them when they are admitted to university. For their part, foreign students benefit from having smaller classes and individual attention from teachers in a community college, Kwong says.

However, Hong Kong students now report that they have had to delay transfers to university because recent cuts in funding to California community colleges meant they had to wait for one or two semesters before there was a place in the requisite classes, he adds.

Given the difficulties in California, Kwong says students who previously would not have met the requirements at leading east coast schools such as the University of Massachusetts may find it a good option to enrol in their new year-one programmes for international students as a springboard into the university.

An Education Bureau survey estimated that 6,000 Hong Kong students, or 10 per cent of the 62,300 Diploma of Secondary Education graduates in 2014, chose to study overseas. The number excludes those students who went abroad earlier in their secondary education.