Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Recently, I had lunch with a young Chinese student who studies at a college in New York. He is very bright and aspiring and I enjoyed our conversation. Still I felt frustrated and useless afterwards because I was not able to provide him with any good news on a question that had been bugging him lately. Graduating at the end of this year, he asked me how he could find a job in this country and fulfill his career dreams.
In recent years, international students who found a job here after graduation have had to go through a cruel lottery system to obtain their H1B working visa. And the success rates have been declining year after year because of the ever growing number of applicants. Last year, there were 233,000 applicants, and only 30 percent of them were lucky, less than half of the rate in 2013.
And it can only become worse. US President Donald Trump
's executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US may have been halted by the courts temporarily, but the squaring off between the administration and the judiciary won't change the overall policy direction - immigration policies in this country are tightening up and this trend will continue for at least the next few years.
The US Congress is already reviewing a bill that requires a $100,000 minimum annual salary threshold for H1B applicants. And Trump has indicated he will probably support the legislation. It is a figure that is very difficult for a young graduate to attain in their first job and a struggle for many with master's degrees. In this case, foreign students studying social sciences, a field in which starting salaries are rarely above the required amount, can kiss their visa hopes goodbye.
But, while I am sorry for my young friend, whose major in journalism is not likely to be considered as meeting a critical need in Trump's America, I know that for Chinese students in the US, the tighter visa policy will be much less devastating than 10 years ago.
Compared to the older generation of Chinese students who would kill to stay in the US after graduation, today's young people no longer consider the US as the only option. Many start to think China offers better opportunities in the longer term. According to China's Ministry of Education
, there were 523,700 Chinese students who went to study in foreign countries in 2015, and 409,100 overseas Chinese students returned after graduation. The out/in ratio was 1.28:1 compared to 2.15:1 a decade ago.
Prospective Chinese employers have been quick to detect the change. In the past two years, an increasing number of Chinese companies have launched campus recruitment tours at US universities.
The past year was a particularly busy one. In March, the Beijing-based career development agency, Hongfei Global, together with Chegg Study, a Santa Clara-based educational services institute, brought several Chinese companies to the campuses of 12 California colleges to recruit Chinese students who'd like to return home to work.
In October, Haiwei Career, the career branch of the test prep school New Oriental Education & Technology Group in Beijing, together with Tencent, Lenovo and JD.com toured close to 20 universities in the US to interview prospective job applicants.
In November, Huawei and ZTE, two rival Chinese telecommunication companies launched their job fairs in American colleges. I attended the last stop of ZTE's job fair in New York, after it had already toured four colleges on the east and west coasts. The job fair, held in the Grand Hyatt in Midtown Manhattan, attracted close to 100 Chinese students studying in different schools in the city.
Zeng Li, the head of Human Resources at ZTE, said although the company has a branch in the US, all the job openings it offered during the tour were based in China. He was happy about the turnout because this was, after all, the first ZTE recruiting tour on US campuses. About 500 of the 80,000 professional employees at the company have studied overseas, Zeng told me, and its goal is to raise the proportion to at least 16,000, or 20 percent.
The students I met at the job fair all told me that the potential for growth a job offers is the most important criteria on which they will make a decision. Whether the job is based in Beijing or New York is not as important.
This is not to say that Chinese students in the US are not interested in job opportunities here any more. A few years of work experience in the US can give them better leverage when they finally land back in their home country. So far there are 328,547 Chinese students studying in the US, making China the number one source for international students here. But if the job opportunities are largely reduced by the tightening of immigration policy, I expect there will be a decline. And if that happens, it is the American economy that will suffer from the loss of those educated, hard-working and talented immigrants. The author is a New York-based journalist. firstname.lastname@example.org