Muchen Zhang, a senior at Pepperdine University in California, had dreamed of studying in the United States since middle school. “The U.S., welcoming and prosperous, is a huge stage with more jobs and high chances to make a fortune,” she says. Studying in the U.S. often allows students to be more independent and creative, which is part of the attraction for many who choose it. The career culture in America is still seen as full of opportunity, even if that might not be the case.
According to a commercial report of the U.S. and China, more than 70 percent of the 340,000 Chinese students who studied in the U.S. in 2017 wanted to work in the country after graduation. Around 20 percent of them want to live in the U.S. for a long time.
But it can be difficult to find a job here, especially for those who want to stay permanently. On April 18, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order to control the number of H-1B visas and put American workers first. President Trump said the order “declares that the policy of our government is to aggressively promote and use American-made goods and to ensure that American labor is hired to do the job.”
It is difficult for an international student to get a job in the U.S., even though most companies highlight equal opportunity for everyone. It is even more difficult to get a working visa, Zhuozhou Fu says, who began his job as a software developer in Ohio after earning a master’s degree from Ball State University in 2016. It took a lot of time and energy to get the job. He says he eventually stood out from other applicants because of his professional skills and fluency in English.
Zhuozhou has one chance every year to receive an H-1B visa, which is distributed by a random drawing, during his OPT. But if Zhuozhou isn’t chosen, he must go back to China after working in the U.S. for three years. High salaries are the most attractive factor of working in the U.S. Employees in America also aren’t required to work overtime—a benefit that’s hard to find in China. The dream is beautiful, but the reality is cruel.
Roughly 70 to 80 percent of all Chinese students who study abroad end up returning home after graduation, according to ICEF Monitor. That is up from from 55 percent in 2011. Zhangqing Mao, a professor at Xiamen University in China, says those who return aren’t just being pushed out of the U.S. but are also pulled back home by an improving Chinese economy. He predicts more jobs will become available, and salaries will rise. Those who return to China can also be near their families and friends, he says, and they gain the comfort of working in a culture they are more familiar with.
Those who leave China for college also miss the campus recruitment that takes place during senior year, when representatives from major companies visit universities to interview and recruit students into jobs following graduation. This is one of the major ways Chinese students get jobs after graduation. And some Chinese employers have only ever heard of the most prominent American universities, leaving those who study at others at an assumed disadvantage. Muchen worries that employers in China won’t offer her a job because they don’t know her school, Pepperdine University, a Christian school with just 7,800 students in total, even though it is within the top 50 colleges in the U.S.
Xinru Guo returned to China and got a job as a journalist in February. She had applied for OPT and worked in New York City after graduating from the journalism school of Columbia University in 2017. She worked at a drug research agency, but she struggled to write like a native English speaker. She finally decided to return to China, not wanting to miss out on a job opportunity in her home country despite the lower pay.
Despite experiences like Xinru’s, Chinese students are still drawn to U.S. universities. But the growth rate is getting slower. Fears regarding personal safety, tuition expenses, and decreasing job opportunities are making people think twice about studying in the U.S. The financial costs of studying abroad can make Chinese students reconsider whether they should leave home in the first place.
But Muchen still sees the benefits of studying abroad. She feels studying internationally helps students become better at multitasking, logic, and independence, which she says are huge strengths during the job hunt. The pressure of studying in the U.S. also taught her how to balance her life, and she grew more creative and organized than before.Z