Percy Mutekanga, a graduate student majoring in international business, said he has applied to at least 100 jobs this year and has yet to find work.
Mutekanga said the issue is that some jobs do not want to go through the process of getting the H1B visa, a permit used to enable international students and professionals the opportunity to work in the United States, according to h1base.com.
“My challenge is that I am not a U.S. Citizen,” Mutekanga said.
Mutekanga will graduate this May with the hopes of finding a job within a global firm. But he said his journey has not been easy, being as most job applications write in bold caps: visa not allowed. By law, Mutekanga has 12 months to find a job after he graduates, or he will have to move back to Uganda.
“Getting the visa is costly and it’s a complicated process for a lot of companies,” Mutekanga said. “This is why they try to stay away from hiring us. It’s a lot easier to hire a local person.”
Born in Swaziland, but raised in Botswana in Southern Africa, Mutekanga grew up with aspirations to own his own business. He attended Principia College in Illinois, attaining a bachelor’s degree in economics. He moved to St. Louis with his brother and attended Webster’s graduate school of business.
H1B Visa Process and OPT
Mutekanga said there is a cap every year for the visa, and it is first come, first serve opportunity.
“It’s sad because if you don’t make the cap, you don’t get a job,” Mutekanga said. “You apply April 1 and the cap is usually met in 24 hours, and it’s a waiting process.”
According to the H1B site, the number of H1B visas issued each year is subject to a cap that is determined by U.S. Congress. The current H1B cap is set at 65,000 plus an additional 20,000 for international students that graduate with an MBA or higher from a U.S. university.
Like all international students, Mutekanga is pressured to find work before his Optional Practical Training (OPT) period is up. The OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to an international student’s major area of study. Under the prior rules, an international student could be authorized to receive up to a total of 12 months of practical training either before pre and or after post completion of studies according to the U.S Visa Associates site.
On Thursday, Feb. 20 the Walker EDGE School of Business and the Office of Corporate partnership hosted an industry insight night in the East Academic Building. Businesses that attended were Commerce Bank, Edward Jones, Maritz, Kennedy Capital Management, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Mohela, Renaissance Financial and Buckingham Asset Management. International students attended, including Mutekanga.
Maria Arias, a Webster alumna, worked the table for the Federal Reserve Bank. She is also an international student, but luckily Federal Reserve Bank did not have a problem hiring her. Arias believes that problem mostly occurs at small businesses.
“I interned with this company for a year, but because they’re a larger company who have hired immigrants, they already knew the process of getting the work visa,” Arias said.
Arias moved from Costa Rica to St. Louis by herself because she is passionate about economic research. She is still in her OPT period and does not plan on moving back home anytime soon.
“I’m actually thinking about going to grad school a second time for another focused degree while I’m here,” Arias said.
Like Mutekanga, Arias wishes the OPT process was longer than just one year so international students and professionals could have more time to search for a job.
However, there are programs in St. Louis that are being put in place for immigrants. The Mosaic Project was created to help attract more immigrants to St. Louis. They hope to engage local and federal government leaders to reduce barriers for foreign workers and their families with motivation to develop the community, according to the Mosaic site.
Mutekanga said he believes over time this program will help increase the number of foreign-born employees in St. Louis.
Mutekanga said he applies for jobs five times a day.
“I know this is something I have to do,” Mutekanga said. “The more opportunities I get to apply, the more chances I get at finding a job.”