International students have opportunity for high skilled jobs, officials say

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 198 views 

Attorney George Ernst said the process of international students getting to work in the United States can be tedious but the students and businesses should plan ahead to make sure everything happens smoothly in a timely manner.

“Employers want to hire the best and a foreign national may be the best,” Ernst, an attorney with the Little Rock-based law firm Mitchell Williams, said Tuesday (March 8) during a round table discussion about immigration and employment law, with a focus on the H-1B visa program.

About 100 people also learned about the opportunities available for international students at Arkansas State University during the event, sponsored by the Hispanic Community Services organization in Jonesboro. Hispanic Community Services executive director Gina Gomez said the event was an opportunity to educate people on a sometimes complex and controversial topic. The university has worked with international students for many years and is in the process of building a new campus in Mexico, Gomez said.

Maria Munoz-White, an ASU immigration advisor, said the students can work toward a pre-completion and a post-completion program to get training for their particular field. The pre-completion program is for undergraduates while the post-completion program is for students seeking a bachelor, masters or doctorate degree. She said the students can also be a regular paid employee, be a contracted employee, work through an employment agency or can work on an internship.

Students can work for up to 17 months in so called STEM fields, but Ernst said there is legal action pending on the timeframe of the program. It is set for a May 10 federal court hearing. The United States District Court for the DC Circuit ruled in August 2015 that the Department of Homeland Security failed to provide notice and public comment at the time of the 2008 STEM extension.

“The most important time is now,” Ernst said in applying for H-1B visas, noting the deadline to apply is April 1 this year.

As for an exact number of people in the United States with H 1-B visas, Ernst said the numbers can vary with no good way to measure them due in part to several federal agencies working on immigration issues. A February 2011 report suggests the number of people then in the country under the H-1B program was around 650,000. There were 65,000 visas granted in 2015, a number set by congressional requirements, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Also, there are 20,000 H 1-B visas set aside each year for people with masters degrees, Ernst said. There is a lot of interest in those visas, Ernst said, noting there were 235,000 applications filed within days of the April 1 deadline last year. Ernst said computer and technical workers can and should apply because of specific need in both industries.

A key part of the issue for businesses include paying the international student a “prevailing wage” based on occupation wage information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Ernst said.

Record keeping is also key, Ernst said, suggesting that businesses should keep employment records for international students separate from other employees in case there is a question from immigration officials. Ernst also suggested that businesses and students should keep in close contact with their immigration attorney.

Attorney Guillermo Hernandez, who has a law office in Little Rock, said businesses can also sponsor a resident alien. The process can be expensive, with the business responsible for paying all fees. The company must first go to the United States Department of Labor to set up a recruiting program. The federal agency processes all applications, which may take up to nine months to complete.

The job application has to be filed with the local employment office, run in a Sunday newspaper at least twice and must be posted at job fairs, with on campus recruiting offices or the company must recruit on campus, Hernandez said. Hernandez said the application cannot tailor job requirements with a particular employee in mind.

“The Department of Labor wants to give an employee every opportunity,” Hernandez said.

The next step includes filing a petition to work, with the final step being approved for the petition. Hernandez said the job turnover rate among international students is very low, noting students want to put their best effort forward. A study in the publication Inside Higher Education bears this out.

“Overall university officials reported higher retention rates for their undergraduate international students than for domestic students, which makes sense given that international students’ visas are tied to the institutions they attend and, unlike domestic students, they don’t have the option to drop out and get a job (unless they wish to return to their home country, of course),” noted the 2014 study from the publication Inside Higher Education noted.