Supporting International Students’ Career Development Needs During COVID-19 Pandemic
Jane Sitter, Xi Yu
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Many student services professionals at post-secondary institutions may have familiarity with the unique needs in supporting international students' career development. Now in this time where our institutions are navigating changes due to COVID-19, it is important to find ways of how to facilitate international student career development in the virtual space. In the following, we will share what we have learned at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMN) on what international students may be experiencing at this time from multiple data sources, and tips on how to best provide career development support.
In a check-in survey we conducted during April of Spring semester at UMN International Student & Scholar Services, international students reported concerns about their student visa and travel restrictions, as well as the potential impact on OPT (work authorization) and future employment in the U.S. With many companies freezing hiring and recruitment, numerous students shared stories of summer internships being canceled, and uncertainty of whether their OPT application would be approved in time. For recent, or soon-to-be, graduates maintaining a valid student status is more time sensitive, and students find it very difficult to manage the stress and anxiety due to career concerns.
In the recent Student Experience at Research University (SERU) COVID-19 Survey, compared to domestic students, international students are more satisfied with online learning but more concerned about their health, safety, and potential immigration policy changes (Chirikov & Soria, 2020). Particularly from graduate and professional students, 61% of the respondents are anxious about the travel restrictions between the U.S. and their home countries, and 41% are concerned about the impact on future employment-based visas in the U.S. such as H1B (Chirikov & Soria, 2020).
For UMN during the 2020 Spring semester, all on-site, in-person community-based, and field experiences for students, including service-learning, internships, and other field-based experiences earning academic credit were cancelled. For their protection, students and faculty were asked to shift community and field-based activities to an online or virtual format if possible. For international students, this adapted university policy caused hurdles of negotiating the potential to change an in-person opportunity to remote, while also figuring out if work authorization will be possible. For some roles, students could work through an exemption process with the university if safe physical distancing would be implemented in the work environment.
To support international students navigating their career development in a virtual space, we recommend the following tips:
- Encourage international students to stay connected to their university staff: a specific outreach to international students to remind them you are there would be beneficial.
- Implement virtual programming: through this we can reduce location-bound barriers and connect our students with alumni and employers around the world, also increasing accessibility by recording conversations for students to be able to see at their convenience (See examples of our spring virtual programming on our social media for international students career development at UMN).
- Encourage using online tools for career development: now is a great time for international students to maximize their use of LinkedIn to expand their professional network and share their accomplishments in the space; students should also consider available online learning platforms where they can earn certifications for developing technical skills and add this to their resume, many platforms are offering free content at this time.
- Prepare for multiple plans: support international students’ preparation for multiple plans in case of abrupt changes; one plan to consider researching at this time if applicable to one’s career goals would be pursuing a graduate degree.
- Collaborate across campus: leverage, or forge, cross-campus connection to best support international student career development needs.
- International Student Offices have been working throughout this time to provide clear and timely communication regarding immigration regulation updates, often detailing any impacts on international students’ application for work authorization - other offices across campus can use this information to help international students navigate any concerns or uncertainty at this time.
- If you are a member of an International Student Office, we recommend connecting with Career Services and Advising colleagues to best point your students to opportunities for career events, workshops for skill development, and employer connections.
Amid the COVID-19 world-wide public health crisis, international students as well as higher education professionals have undergone a “rollercoaster” experience given the series of travel bans/restrictions, proclamations on certain visa types, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) new rules about taking online classes for Fall 2020. More important than ever, institutions need to promptly adjust how we communicate and offer services to fulfill international student's ever-changing needs and challenges, which will mitigate their anxiety and better assist them to thrive academically and socially as valued members of our university communities.
Chirikov, I., and Soria, M. K. (July 2020). International students’ experiences and concerns during the pandemic. Center for Studies in Higher Education. Retrieved from https://cshe.berkeley.edu/seru-covid-survey-reports
Jane Sitter is the international career consultant in Career Services Administration at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Since 2017, Jane has supported undergraduate international students’ career development through collaborations with university staff, international students, and employers. Jane can be reached at [email protected].
Dr. Xi Yu is the evaluation specialist at International Student and Scholar Services at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. In her current role since 2015, Xi has conducted numerous evaluation projects among international students, staff and faculty using data to guide campus priorities and better serve the international student population. She earned her doctorate degree in organizational leadership, policy, and development at the University of Minnesota. Xi can be reached at [email protected].