Foreign students struggle with visas in post-Sept. 11 job search

Michelle Gabriel

Faced with a tight job market and ever-tighter visa regulations, some foreign students find returning home after graduation preferable to looking for work in the United States.

Foreign students must find a job within 90 days of graduation or their student visas expire, forcing them back to their home country. The 90-day period set by the Immigration and Naturalization Services is three months less than the limit set before Sept. 11.

Foreign students don’t necessarily have a right to stay in the United States and find a job, said Val Obregon, a spokesperson for the Chicago district office of the INS.

“They are only here to study, they are not here to work,” Obregon said. “That’s the bottom line, people don’t remember that.”

But McCormick sophomore Luka Spoljaric said foreign students have as much right to work in the United States as do American citizens. International students “don’t experience the work force,” he said.

Ilona Pinter, a recent NU graduate, could not find a permanent job in her preferred field of marketing and advertising, and will soon return home to Slovenia.

Though Pinter – a communication studies and art major – has been doing working at the Kellogg School of Management since graduating last June, she does not want to go through the hardship of taking a permanent position in the United States.

For employers, hiring an international worker is a “huge process,” Pinter said. They must fill out large amounts of paperwork, pay a $2,000 fine and explain in a court hearing why they are hiring an international employee instead of an American.

And with fewer positions to fill this year, employers are more likely to hire U.S. citizens than foreigners, Obregon said.

Bertram Schuster, executive vice president of DHR International, a Chicago job placement firm, agreed. Though employers claim to want diversity in the workplace, “in a pragmatic sense, that really isn’t what people want,” Schuster said.

“We can … feel more comfortable with people who are more like us,” he said.