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How hard is it for an international student to find a job in the US after a MS in chemistry or other STEM major?

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Hi everyone,

I am about to go to the US for a masters in chemistry. My intention is to apply to a PhD program after my MS degree is awarded, but I was wondering about the possibility of working before continuing to a doctoral program. As an international student, what would be my chances of getting hired by any company? I know that companies try to avoid hiring foreign workers since the visa and/or residency permits are costly to obtain. But has anyone here been hired under these circumstances? How was your experience? 
Please share stories or comments that you consider to be useful for me and others in the same situation.

Thanks :)

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It's hard to estimate the "chances" because everything depends on your own set of skills/qualifications, what you're looking for and who happens to be hiring when you're looking.

However, I can tell you a little bit about the steps foreign workers must go through to be hired!

You might have heard about the difficulty of being sponsored by a company for H1-B visas. These are definitely costly to obtain and there are time limits. In addition, the current US government is trying to change these rules, which might make it even more difficult and provide more disincentives for US companies to hire foreign workers.

You say you are interested in something in between a MS and PhD degree. I am assuming you will be attending your MS program on F-1 student status. As a F-1 student, you will be eligible for OPT (Optional Practical Training) after completion of your degree (you're actually also eligible during your degree but I mentioned "after" here since you asked about afterwards). Here's the official info: https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/students-and-employment/optional-practical-training. As a STEM MS graduate, you would be eligible for the extension, which means you can be in the US on OPT status from your F-1 obtained for your MS program for up to 29 months.

So, this doesn't mean that you'll get a job for sure, but your OPT status means that you don't have to worry about an employer having to sponsor you for any special status or pay for any visa related costs. It's all done via your MS school. US employers are currently not allowed to discriminate based on your immigration status (unless you are working for a lab that requires citizenship or something)---they can only ask if you are eligible to work in the US. Your OPT status will make you independently eligible to work, so as long as you are looking for a temporary position, I don't think you have to worry about the same things as others worrying about H1-B and green card sponsorship.

You should talk to your MS program's international student for more information on OPT. When you do start your PhD program, you will be on a different F-1 visa/status, so the OPT time you take for your MS F-1 will not affect your eligibility to do the same after finishing your PhD. That is, you will still be able to work for up to 29 months after graduating from your PhD program before you need to worry about things like attaining another more permanent status.

Finally, a note: These rules do change from time-to-time so you should stay up to date on the progress and try to be flexible where possible. For the past few years, there's been a plan to change the STEM OPT timelines. They want to increase it from 29 months to 36 months, which would be a good thing. But these changes can move slowly....it might not take effect by the time you graduate from your MS. At the same time, changes can also be negative for you. Some changes (e.g. law changes like the 29 month->36 month thing) are slower to take effect while others (e.g. executive orders from the President) can take effect very quickly. My advice is that you should aim for your goals but as an international person in the USA, it would be a good idea to have some sort of backup plan in case things change drastically for the worse.

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I have an international friend who did Chemistry undergraduate in US and went on to have a job in an international cosmetic firm at NYC. Like Takeru said almost three years of guaranteed OPT period after graduation is quite sufficient for many junior positions, and the work visa application after the OPT period is not super costly. Recognizing this, many firms do consider international students, and even smaller firms could do on a case by case level. So definitely it is worth a shot!

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