COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of nearly every living person on earth. Some severely hit and dying, and some staring at devastating impacts on their career. It’s a tough phase in life for everyone, and one of the worst-hit will be international students graduating this year.
Being outside of one’s own country and needing to abide by certain strict timelines to maintain legal stay, many students are staring huge challenges as soon as they graduate. Not only there are expected a big reduction in jobs, but international students would need to fight the logistic constraints of staying in their host country. For example, in the U.S, one must get a job within 3 months of graduation to continue staying and working for the next 1 year. Which makes it a very small window to get a job in the current environment.
Having graduated as an international student on my own in 2016 from Arizona State University in the USA, I have personally experienced the struggles the international community of students have to go through even in normal times. Now with Coronavirus disturbing the economic scale at a global level, it will certainly become more challenging for the international community of students.
Steps To Consider Based On Your Situation
I can’t speak with much certainty about rules for students in EU, UK, Canada, Australia or Asia. But, the USA has one of the most stringent policies for international students. Once a student graduates from a university, they have 90 days to get a job to be eligible for a 1 Year OPT, which allows them to work for any employer up to 1 year.
1. Lengthening Your Graduation Timeline- Most students in the US graduate in the fall semester between May-July. Many companies are prepared to interview and hire students around this time. However, with COVID-19 continuing to increase it’s spread in the US, there’s a high chance that hiring will be slow this year.
In most universities, Graduate and UG students have an option to choose the number of credits they can enroll for. The subjects they can study and the semester they’ll opt for graduation. While this is the usual standard, it may not be available for specialized 1-year courses or other shorter formats at a different graduate or UG level. But if this policy is available for your course at your university, you must discuss it with your program advisor to opt for it.
2. Choose Your OPT Start Date Further Away- Some students might not be aware and can define their OPT to start from the same or shortly after they graduate, and it’s good at usual times. However, USCIS allows any student a window of 60 days, from their date of graduation to define as their OPT start. And it’s important to know it’s available and how to use it your advantage even if in a limited capacity.
Basically the 90-day clock to find a job starts from the date you define as your OPT start date rather than your graduation date. In usual times, its good to be more aggressive with your start as companies typically doesn’t want to wait long durations when they are planning to higher college students. And many students follow this strategy by default. But in current times it's prudent to be cautious of the economic environment, your honest assessment of opportunities lying ahead of you and then finalizing the start date accordingly.
Below Is An Example Scenario-
3. Collaborate with your professor- Most university professors in the USA, are involved in some research work with companies ranging from local to global. It would be a good idea for any current student to reach out to their professors and pitch for any assistive work they could participate in. The advantage of this is that a university professor is authorized to issue a letter of authority that student is engaged in non-profile research work.
There are additional twin advantages to it. First, you’ll gain some valuable experience while helping a professor on a real-world project. Second, your 90-day unemployment clock stops the moment a professor authorizes you for help in research work as per the University OPT update process.
4. Reach out to companies in your program Chair’s network or academic sponsors-
For every program in a major US university, there’s a requirement for industry projects. Professors leading the delivery of a program in any university are closely connected with local company representatives. These org representatives collaborate on projects with the University professors and specifically around use cases directly connected to that program. While networking like this would never guarantee a job or an internship. It increases the likelihood of those connected with the professors and has a matching skill set relevant to the company or project’s needs.
5. Present your skills on Professional Platforms- In 2020, it’s very important not just to differentiate yourself in the interview. But also highlight your skills and thought leadership on platforms like LinkedIn and Medium. Talk about the projects you did, skills you learned, you're taking on any new development in the industry or any unique point. Again it doesn’t guarantee you a job, but recruiters in the USA are increasingly using LinkedIn and social profiles to review a candidate before reaching out to schedule a call. An impressive and relevant profile can increase your likelihood to secure that first call in comparison to some other candidate.
6. Explore Freelancing- It doesn’t need much explanation for an aware international student. Usually, full-time masters students would be in a good position for a full-time jobs. But in this rare time of a pandemic, finances will be a stretch for everyone. And it becomes increasingly harder for international students who often come to a new country with considerable
7. Convert your Master's program to a PhD program- This option is not for everyone. But those of you who have research areas can work on the process to continue their studies in Masters to tide this rough time.
8. Network on Linkedin, Gracefully and Intelligently!- This can be a separate article in its own, especially with an exponential increase in messages asking for help that can make someone cringe. Anyway, two quick points here is to start networking from people you already know. For example, your school friends or seniors already working in the country, your college seniors from undergrad and your current university. It's important to understand that the quality of networking, follow up messages and explaining the context of your problems matters a lot more when messaging on Linkedin. Random messages or posts from your homepage won't help much, except for some random views.
Honestly, none of the above is a full proof solution or something that’ll take your stress away. But these were all the ideas that I could think of as of now, that I would have tried given the current world scenario. They may or may not ease out the situation in a perfect manner for you, but they have the potential to minimize your risk and give you more breathing time. The time which would be very crucial to try and get your job in the US, as COVID situation improves in the months to come. Or the time you might need to prepare yourself better for opportunities at home or anywhere else you might be targeting.
We must approach this time with a balanced optimism. Let’s hope we all-weather this situation much better than we think we can, and at the same time keep preparing enough to minimize any undesirable outcomes.
Everyone keep well and keep preparing.