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Crisis Hurting Korean Professionals Seeking Jobs in US

Posted March. 14, 2009 09:43,   


A 39-year-old Korean worker at an information technology company in Boston with an H-1B visa for professionals turned on his computer at work. In an e-mail message from the company’s personnel department, he was told he would be laid off.

He was told to leave his office by 5 p.m. the day he received the notification.

“While I was packing up, the personnel officer watched me nearby,” he said. “I felt so bad because the officer apparently wanted to ensure that I didn’t take any confidential documents from my computer,” the worker said.

For another Korean who graduated from a prestigious U.S. business school and dreamed of working on Wall Street, the past several months have been a nightmare.

While working at a New York hedge fund with an optional practical training visa after graduation, his employer promised him an H-1B visa. His boss reneged on the pledge amid the economic crisis, so the 28-year-old Korean had to go home since his training visa was valid for just one year.

Amid the economic crisis, Korean professionals with degrees earned in the United States are losing their jobs.

American companies provide H-1B visas for nearly 120,000 employees. The road to acquire the visa is long and rough, however, as more than one million people want it every year. Moreover, the effectuation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program has led to fewer job opportunities for non-citizens since the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

The program requires a company receiving government funds to prove that it tried to employ U.S. citizens before hiring foreigners, and that the foreigners to be employed are the most qualified for the positions offered.

In letters to foreign students, job placement centers at business schools, including Harvard and Pennsylvania, conveyed the information. They tell students that job offers by U.S. companies could be withdrawn due to the economic crisis.

A Korean set to earn a graduate degree from a New York school in spring is desperate for a job. General Electric, American Express and many other U.S. companies that were relatively generous to overseas students with jobs from this year have allowed only Americans and permanent residents to apply for internships.

Certain students are going back to school. A Korean who received an MBA from George Washington University will seek a degree in information technology at the school because of difficulty in finding a visa sponsor.

Others go as far as to defer their theses to maintain their foreign student status, though that means they must keep paying high tuition. A Korean in Virginia who is on the verge of finishing his dissertation said he plans to stay a student for another semester.

The delayed ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement is also preventing many Koreans from getting jobs in the United States. The accord allows for a job visa quota for Koreans separate from the annual limit on the number of the H-1B visas issued.

Experts in the United States have warned of the increasing exodus of foreign professionals to their home countries and the consequences of their departures for America.

The Washington Post said young and talented foreigners leaving the United States means the leak of the seeds for innovation.

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