Why I am leaving New York: The international student edition

Everyone knows how the song goes. “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” It’s the song they played at my convocation this year. It’s the song referenced in other songs about New York. It’s the story of survival and ingenuity, the story that has inspired generations to work from the bottom up. (It’s also the title of my blog.)

This idea that New York is only for the toughest and the fastest and the smartest is perpetuated by everyone: the media, the administration, even within ourselves. It’s almost a source of pride what people living in New York go through in a single day – finding not dog, but human excrement on our doorsteps; bathrooms without ventilation; forty-five minute waits for dinner – and it is seen as the survival of the mentally fittest. In the past, perhaps this was the case. If you hustled enough, you could make it.

But now, those looking to “make it” 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 of newly graduated students. Now add the complication of being an international student.

I, like the majority of international students studying in the US, hold F-1 status. This qualifies me for 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) after graduation, allowing me to work for any employer full time within my field. Although the 12-month OPT time frame is relatively short, the most obvious problem is the part about finding a job: international graduates are given three months to find employment. This is essentially a death knell in today’s job market, where the unemployment rate amongst new grads is an astounding 53%. The three-month rule applies even to graduates who had been laid off within the 12-month period, something that affected the many international graduates during the lay-offs in 2009. The 12-month period (18-months for those in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM) is also a deterrent to organizations looking to hire an international student; smaller companies and non-profits often don’t have the budget or the resources to deal with sponsoring the graduate after the 12-month period has ended. As a result, many well-educated international students leave after years of specialized training at top American universities.

This is a real problem for America, and one that is getting the attention of employers and educators across the country. Recently, the presidents of 122 American universities, including the president of my alma mater, signed a petition to President Obama requesting a change in the current legislature. 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% of patents issued to the top 10% of American universities had been credited to foreign-born innovators, proof of the necessity for international students in the STEM fields. The policies as they currently stand are a barrier to keeping students in the country. The letter reads, “[A]fter we have trained and educated these future job creators, our antiquated immigration laws turn them away to work for our competitors in other countries.” While the petition specifically focuses on those in the engineering and computer science fields, it is important to note that innovation in other fields is also needed. Yes, the economy is struggling. The job market is anemic. But the current approach to job creation is short sighted and does not seem to point towards a full economic recovery.

The country’s greatest strength is in its history of immigration. Its best years of innovation and global dominance are also the years where the best and the brightest from other countries were given opportunities that weren’t available in their homelands. Today, the students who come to study at American universities are often the best and the brightest of their countries. Restrictive student visa policies do nothing to protect American job opportunities. The solution to a weak economy may well lie in one of the many international students departing the country after graduation. The current policy towards international students needs to be changed – it should give both businesses and graduates the chance to best utilize the training and skills of these individuals. Isn’t it in the country’s best interests to keep the talent they have spent time and resources on to train? In other countries such as Canada, Masters and Ph.D. graduates are granted residency to ensure these well-educated individuals stay. Shouldn’t the US strive to do the same?

And this is why I am leaving New York. I don’t want to stay in a country that refuses to acknowledge the vast amount of resources that they have. I see the increasing xenophobia, the political fear-mongering, the absolute denial that the world is changing. Maybe if I stayed here I could become something. But by now I don’t think I want to. Would you want to be the captain of a sinking ship?


11 thoughts on “Why I am leaving New York: The international student edition

  1. How exactly did you get here? Why are you now entitled to stay? Who exactly paid for your $200-300k education? Do you realize that your 4 year undergrad or 6-8 yr post grad education took the seat of a potential US student. Don’t you think Americans would be better served by having American students occupy the seat you took up here in a US institution for the last 4, 6 or 8 yrs? And now what you graduated- congrats -so know you want to take the job of an American because a US employer can now pay you a below market salary for the quid pro of holding your H-1 visa- who exactly is that a good deal except some multinational corporation. Why should I be unhappy for you know. I think Americans would be better off by providing a full scholarship to any US high student who wishes to get a degree in math, science engineering etc. rather then funding a insane military complex. In that case we wouldn’t have to worry about the 250,000 foreign students coming here. The reason Americans are not in those American university seats is because of money- money they don’t have because a foreign government decided to flip your educational bill or your mom and dad had the bank to flip your bill. Sorry, but its time to pack your bags we should have never had made it easy for you to come here in the first place and that is the real waste. The best interest of America is to provide a better life for Americans, especially American students. I agree the ship is taking on water but I think your stay here has been part of the problem.

  2. “The country’s greatest strength is in its history of immigration. Its best years of innovation and global dominance are also the years where the best and the brightest from other countries were given opportunities that weren’t available in their homelands.”

    I would agree with this, in an environment where the US economy is prosperous. In a recession it’s a completely different story and some of what Mike says above is accurate. It’s very difficult to argue for an international student to stay and take a job that an American might be able to take, especially if it helps ease their unemployment figures. And what Mike says is true about a lot of Americans finding difficulty getting into undergrad or post-grad programs that are “prestigious” or living in large, expensive cities, on their own. A significant portion of international students are paid through their (often rather wealthy) parents, which gives them such a significant advantage over some of the less wealthy Americans having a shot at the same jobs/opportunities or even being able to stay in expensive cities like New York, to find a job. These situations cause societal problems in a lot of recession-ridden countries. Take Greece for one example…

  3. @Mike

    Maybe if your country didn’t cram $664 billion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_budget_of_the_United_States) into your military regime to invade other countries, you’d have more education funding.

    It only bothers you when it happens in America, doesn’t it? When Americans travel to other countries and acquire jobs there, it’s “privilege”. When someone does it in America? INVASION.

    Maybe the international students are better candidates with greater skills. Probably because they can actually read a map (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww).

  4. Let me first agree with you about the US military budget and US foreign policy. I agree totally but we are not talking about that- we are talking about your so called “privilege” to work in the US.

    That being said I don’t agree with your other comments.

    First off I don’t know what country you are from but the beautiful people are usually dumb- whether they are male or female. So please spare us the dumb blond bimbo beauty queen YouTube clip from south Carolina.

    Also, “If I can make it here” refers to NY NY not bum fuck South Carolina. You might want to update your musical reference to a song which is not almost 40 years old, the world was different then. Also its not” I can make it anywhere” its “I’ll make it anywhere” a subtle but important difference.
    You might want to refer to the JayZ/Alicia Keyes version about NY. Since those lyrics are a bit more topical and contemporary.

    You never tell us who paid for your education here. Are you truly your countries brightest or are you a member of your country’s rich / power elite?

    I have traveled to many parts of the world- I don’t know of any developed country that I could goto and just get a job tomorrow. As an American, I can’t just pop into London and get a job! What is this utopian country/city that you refer to where Americans feel “privileged” to work. If you think I’m running to China or India for a job you must be smoking something good.

    I never used the term “invasion” but it is you who thinks that because you spent over $250- $350k in a US education and BS degree that you are now “privileged” to work here. Sorry but no. If you want to live and work here I suggest you go back to your country and work for a multinational company that is willing to send you here. I also understand that if you are willing to buy a business here for a cool $1mil or so, our US State Dept will grant you a Visa- so either you pay up or ship out.

    Lastly, I have come across foreign students over the last couple of years. I know of a recent foreign student who graduated Yale and was offered a $55k risk analyst job at BofA. She is being paid half the wage of an American and was put on a H1- who benefits here? Or another group who were offered a 3 month “internship” at AIG/Chartis and being paid $5k for the entire period- again who really benefits . hint- its not the students.

    So back your bags and to quote another song” don’t let the door hit you on the way out”

    Oh, and in case you think I’m misguided you might want to watch this video balanced piece


    Who really benefits?? and Americans lose again…

    “Go west my young man”

    Wherever you go- east or west- north or south- JUST GO!!!!

    • Mike, you might want to double check your grammar and spelling.

      First off, you seem to be attacking Streaker, who commented underneath John and yourself. I am not Streaker, and I don’t necessarily agree with his/her views.

      As to your attacks on me, I know for a fact that I am qualified to be here. I graduated at the top of my class, received awards from both my department and the dean of my school, was a leader in student government, and worked at a prestigious internship while in school. Oh, and I wrote an entire thesis. So don’t tell me I didn’t work hard or don’t deserve to be here. It wasn’t easy getting into grad school, it certainly wasn’t easy getting the study permit to come here, and it was not easy to graduate.

      I think we both have frustrations with the job market. I don’t think it’s a fault of any foreign student who comes here – they try their hardest to make the best of the situation, just like anyone else who is looking for a job right now. Look at the problems with the system here. This is what my blog post is about – the problems with the system, not with the people in it. Telling me to pack my bags and leave (which, as it says in the original post, I am so you don’t need to keep telling me so) will not get you a job and it will definitely not fix a broken US economy.

      PS. I am Canadian, to answer your question. Very foreign. 🙂

      • Hard work does not entitle you to green card or work visa. If that were the case you would have to get on the back of the line of the 12mil undocumented immigrants. One could argue that their hard work has been at least equal to what you have done. At the end of the day, you bought your degree why would you buying/ earning a degree somehow entitle you to work here. As for the 120 university presidents and their letter. Remember they are in the business of education and since american society has not made a college education a priority they are finding it difficult to find american bodies to fill their seats. 250-300k foreign all cash paying “wide eyed ” international students is a nice market. Hey why not 500k, why should they bother with American students. NYU is ahead of the curve on this, have you actually been in a undergrad class lately and seen the % of international students.

        Hey, there are worse places to live then Canada- some would say New York!

        • This is not an either-or argument. This is not green card immigrants vs undocumented immigrants vs work permits. And how do you know I ‘bought’ my degree? You have absolutely zero idea how I got through school. If you were to use this logic, then any student who went through college ‘bought’ their degree – yes, even the ones on student loans, because they borrowed the money to ‘buy’ their degree.

          What qualifies you to be here? Simply the fact that you were born in this country? The entire history of how America came to be is full of human rights violations, atrocities, imperialism, mass killings and slavery. I think that a few foreign students coming, paying tuition, taxes, and rent is the least of your problems.

          I can tell you are very angry, Mike, but personally attacking me and other foreign students will not solve anything for you. Anger will get you nowhere. I suggest you go and try to effect real change rather than (not then, as you keep typing) blame the immigrants and the students and the foreigners for the problems in Amurrrca.

  5. @Streaker – FYI, i’m not American, nor do I live in America. The post I made was simply in observation of today’s America. It just baffles my why on earth anyone who is not American would want to move there right now.
    I would have no problem for an American to move to my country so long as our labour force demands their expertise in a specific industry. To just have a blanket statement saying “just because I have such and such academic qualifications” doesn’t mean that the labour force in the US needs anyone at its current economic state. And to argue against that is just not being realistic to the current situation.

    There are lots of undergrad/grad students that have to pay their way through their degree, with hundreds of thousands in loans they have to pay off. Do these people not deserve the jobs in America more than an international student that was paid through their (often) wealthy families?

    • John, it’s not just foreign students who have bills footed by their wealthy families. If we follow your logic, then employers should have a screening system where they offer jobs only to graduates who have loans. I’m sure people like yourself would not appreciate that sort of system.
      I am not looking to permanently move to the US. I, like many people my age, look for the opportunity to live abroad, gain valuable work experience, and contribute to a global society. Americans (and Canadians) disproportionately follow this path, so we should not begrudge any student who wants to do this. It’s called the age of globalization.

  6. @Vicki S – I’d definitely agree with you in the fact that we need to promote global citizenship and focus less on nationalism, but we do have to accept the economic limitations of the situations some countries are in. I don’t blame anyone for the fact that they may want to work abroad, but the fact is, is that America is is no state to provide for others when it cannot provide for itself.

    • You bought your degree. Who paid for it is irrelevant. Thus by “buying” a degree why do you think that you are somehow entitled to work here? I’m not angry at you or foreign students, but I am basically asking exactly how many foreign students in US institutions would be enough. 200k, 500k. I think you might not appreciate the financial burden of an American student vs a Canadian one. How much is 4 yr education at McGill vs nyu?? $30k vs $200k ?

      I am angry at the American and government which puts the rights of corporations and a military industrial complex ahead of the 99%ers…

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