“Just woo someone to stay,” says my American friend after I told them that a recent visa regulation for international students was making me — and countless others — feel uncertain about our future.
Though that’s definitely the most loaded stereotype that an American might have of a Vietnamese international student abroad, there are numerous misconceptions that pop up constantly. Whether people are being purposefully rude or just don’t know better, these stereotypes and misconceptions can take a serious toll on one’s mental health.
So, we’re here today to bust some myths!
International students have become an essential part of college campus life. In the 2019-2020 academic school year, the United States welcomed more than 1 million international students. According to the Open Doors Report, the United States remains the top destination for those who seek to study abroad. As a previous international student myself who went to college in Seattle, I absolutely loved the whole college experience. I learned to be more independent and meet people from all around the world. However, I noticed that many people don’t really understand international students.
Getting married upon graduation as a means of staying in the US
“Do you have a partner that can sponsor you after graduation in case you can’t get a job here?” This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions for international students, especially females. Ironically, this question is often asked by people in your own circle and among the Vietnamese community. I can't count how many times I get asked this question by my relatives.
There are three main ways to obtain permanent residency (green card) in the US: marriage to a US citizen, employer sponsorship and family sponsorship. Over the years, finding an employer to sponsor an H1-B work visa and the lottery system to obtain one has become more and more difficult. The H1-B visas are capped at 85,000 in total per year, but the excess number of foreign applicants led to the US government implementing a new system called the lottery, which doesn’t guarantee an applicant a visa even if they all have the proper paperwork submitted. Thus, marriage is often seen as an alternative plan if one isn’t granted an H1-B visa. It’s also a running joke among my circle of friends: “Well, the other option is getting married.”
However, from the many conversations I have had with my international friends, not everyone likes to hear that comment. Some of my female friends find it offensive because people just assume that marriage is the end goal, without realizing that there are other options to obtain a green card and that not everyone wants to be in a marriage to do so.
International students come from rich families
While it is true that many international students come from affluent backgrounds, many rely on academic or merit-based scholarships to afford college in the US. Each American university and college has its own scholarship application that offers partial or full-ride funding. Just like domestic and in-state students, international students have different experiences and are from different walks of life.
Depending on where your home country is, others receive scholarships from their country’s government to study in the U.S. My friend, who is Indonesian, received financial aid from her government as a scholarship to pursue her Master’s degree in linguistics.
International students also work part-time on-campus to cover living expenses and gain experience. While I was an undergraduate in Seattle, I worked as a resident assistant for my college dorm to cover housing and food expenses. This tremendously helped my parents and I to afford college in America.
International students like to stay in their own circle
This statement is true to a certain extent and I want to offer my reasoning as to why this is the case. Studying abroad can result in homesickness and loneliness, so it is understandable that international students seek out cultural organizations, such as Vietnamese Student Association, to connect with their cultural heritage and home country. It is also helpful to have a group of friends that can be your support system. Since Boston is home to a large Vietnamese international student population, there is a Facebook group dedicated to the Vietnamese-American, Vietnamese immigrants, and Vietnamese international student communities called “Hội Thanh Niên và Sinh Viên Việt Nam vùng Boston Mở Rộng (roughly translated as “The Vietnamese Youth and International Students Squad in Greater Boston.”). The group often posts resources like visa regulations for international students, where to eat or hang out and housing options for newly arrived students. When I was still new to Seattle, I also relied on an international student club to navigate my freshmen life. They organized an orientation to smooth the way to campus and college life. The club also put on many networking and social events to help us meet new people and form a community.
However, that doesn’t mean international students aren’t open to meeting people from cultures/countries that are different from them. For example, my best friend from college is Indonesian and we met through a cultural event on campus. I also met people whom I call good friends through working as a resident advisor, and these people have helped to make my college experience more fun and vibrant.
International students take away jobs from Americans
Upon graduation, international students are allowed to work in full-time or part-time roles relating to their major, under OPT (Optional Practical Training) for 12 months or an additional 24 months if you majored in STEM (college degree programs relating to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Many people assume that international students participating in the OPT program will reduce jobs for U.S workers. A National Foundation for American Policy study on International Students, STEM OPT and the U.S. STEM Workforce, indicates otherwise. Evidence suggests that the large number of international students approved for OPT is associated with a lower unemployment rate among U.S. workers. The study stated “the number of foreign students approved for OPT as a share of all new graduates with STEM majors is low, ranging from less than one-half of one percent of students earning a bachelor’s degree to 13 percent of PhDs. The number of foreign students approved for OPT as a share of STEM workers is even lower.”
In my experience applying for full-time jobs in America after graduation in 2021, many companies didn’t know about these programs or seemed reluctant to bring on international students, because they didn’t want to go through the complicated documentation process.
In addition, an H1-B work visa is becoming more difficult as a result of the lottery system and the cap on the number of visas that can be issued. Many companies are also reluctant to go through this complicated documentation process to bring on international students.
Other countries, such as Canada, are more generous with their work program. The Canadian equivalent allows a 3-year open work permit for international students who studied in the country full time and earned a degree or diploma? That’s why Canada is becoming a more popular study abroad destination among many international students. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, international student numbers grew by 20% from 2017-2018 and as of December 31, 2018, there were 572,415 international students in Canada.
These several misconceptions can be frustrating and create barriers between international and domestic students. One strategy I found particularly helpful was having conversations with people I networked with. Sometimes you’ll get awkward questions or hear some misconceptions and assumptions about what it’s like to be an international. However, ultimately people are just curious and genuinely want to learn more. You can also use this opportunity to educate them on your experience as an international student in the U.S. From my experience, the best way to bust these myths is to be open to sharing your story!