Higher education – choose India to avoid US slavery

With the hiring freeze in USA spreading from the banking and finance fields to other sectors as well, it is difficult times for Indian students in the US. It is harder on students who are on the threshold of completing their course in December, and becoming eligible or OPT (Optional Practical Training). OPT status allows students who are still on students visa to work in the US as part of their learning curve.

The Bush administration has changed the OPT period from 12 months to 29 months for graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics but the change has come with a rider. From the date of issue of the OPT card, students have to enroll for internship within three months or go back to their home country. For those pursuing an MBA, however the OPT period remains one year but again with the three months rider.

October end is our deadline to inform our colleges if we are planning to complete the course this December as planned but with no internship offers students do not know what to do. A couple of his friends have decided to extend their studies, which will help them push the OPT deadline by a few months, when the economy may be in a betters shape and presumably offer more job openings.

The masters program in the US costs upwards of Rs 12 lakh and most students avail of bank loans. The budgets are pretty tight and any additional cost is a source of concern. For instance, a postgraduate student at Texas A & M has already taken a loan of Rs 13 lakh. If he extends her studies by even a few more months, it will require another Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 3 lakh. The 23 year old who has decided to complete his course on time, in December as planned, since he wants to begin his loan repayment as early as possible. He has been attending job interviews for the past few weeks, but nothing is to hand as yet. Job prospects are very dim. Earlier if you went to a good university your chances of landing a job by December were very bright.

The situation is a bit dicey because only 3 out of 20 companies sponsor international students and apply for a H1 visa on their behalf. With meltdown even that is not happening. Besides university pedigree may not always count for much. In the US, employers look for a specific skill set and only when there is a perfect match the person hired.

American has been the dream destination for thousands of students. There are nearly 88,000 Indian students studying in the US, and they are the biggest single international student population. We have seen a rough 20% year-on-year increase, and the trend will continue.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows students to gain wide-ranging on the job experience, related to the subject of the study. There are two types of practical training – CPT (Curricular Practical Training) during the course of studies and OPT which is done after graduation, it is mandatory for students hoping to stay on in the US for a couple of years and pay off their loans to choose either one.

The new three month rider in OPT was brought in when the H1 lottery started. Usually there was a gap between completion of training and the issuance of HI visa, and employers had to fly out new recruits to other destination and make them re-enter the country. The new rule irons out such wrinkles.

While on OPT a student can hope to earn more than US $ 1,000 a month, at a conservation estimate. Living expenses would range between $300 and $500 allowing a saving of $500. A number of students moonlight or do odd weekend jobs in an effort it beef up their savings. Many students use such hard-earned money to buy gifts for the family.