International Students in STEM Concerned About Tech Economy

STEM student

Large technology companies including Amazon, Google, Meta and Microsoft, recently announced that they would cut thousands of jobs.

The reductions are worrisome for students in the fields of science, engineering, technology and math, also known as STEM. For international students, the cuts were even more unsettling for those who hope to stay and work in the United States.

Under U.S. laws, after finishing school, international students are permitted to work in the country for one year under the Optional Practical Training, or OPT program. For STEM students, the program extends their work permit for an additional two years in their field of study.

Voice of America recently spoke with two students who are working on advanced degrees in technology. The students are finishing their studies this year.

A data student from Spain

Marta Martinez Fernandez is a 27-year-old student from Valencia, Spain. Later this year, she will complete an MBA, or Master of Business Administration, in interpreting data at Brandeis University, near Boston.

Fernandez had an internship, a training position, with a company in California last year. The company, Postman, makes a product that helps computer programs from different companies work together. She said that the company plans to offer her a job.

But she said some of her classmates who finished their study programs in December are not so lucky. They are unemployed, and their time to find a job is running out.

Students in the U.S. on an F-1 visa must find a job within the first 90 days after completing their studies. Some job offers have been withdrawn, Fernandez said, because of the economy.

It’s definitely made everybody more competitive. It’s made everybody more stressed. The market was already competitive like crazy for international students before the tech layoffs happened, I feel like right now, it’s at a different level than at least I had ever witnessed before.”

An artificial intelligence student from Iran

Ervin, who did not want to give his full name, is a 27-year-old from Iran. He studies the “intersection of language and technology” at a school in the northeastern U.S.

He said he came to study in the U.S. because of “the educational quality.” He said he risked everything to come to the U.S., hoping for a chance to use his skills.

Ervin said there are technology companies in Iran, but there are too many students competing for a small number of jobs. In the U.S., it is the opposite. There are a lot of good jobs for experts in language and technology.

Right now, he is applying to do research in a lab at Stanford University in California. If he does not get a job with Stanford, he hopes to work for a company that makes computer programs to help humans speak to machines.

Although Ervin believes he will get the research job, he worries when he hears about job reductions at big technology companies. That is because there are more experienced people looking for tech jobs than ever before.

Advice from a professor

Christopher Perrello is an assistant professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. He said even students who graduated from Syracuse three or four years ago are asking for help finding new jobs.

“I’m worried about this,” Perello said. “Our international students get hurt the most when these layoffs occur…” Perrello said students in technology studies who planned on working in Silicon Valley might need to consider something different.

For example, he said they should look at healthcare and hospitals because hospitals have experience bringing in workers from other countries. And, “healthcare pays very well,” he said.

The other areas he suggested include working on computer systems for airlines or hotels. Those companies work in countries around the world and have experience with international workers. And the third place to look for work would be in higher education.

Perrello warned students against spending more money just to stay in school in order to stay in the U.S.

“What you’re really doing there is now you’re just setting that candidate up for another few years of uncertainty and ambiguity. And that could cause some further mental health challenges or further, you know, anxieties with getting other jobs.”

Back-up plans?

If Martinez Fernandez’s job offer from Postman does not come through, she said she might consider staying in the U.S. and trying to start her own business.

For Ervin, if he does not get a good job or research position, he said he still is happy that he came to study in the U.S.

“I think the biggest risk is to stay stable and not do anything.”

Even if it does not work out, Ervin said, he has a great degree he can use in his home country.