Job prospects for Korean students affects enrollment

This multimedia package showcases job prospects for Korean students, the slowing down Korean student enrollment trends, and the Korean students as a share among international students in the U.S.

Mina Jang’s interest in the Unites started early. She watched a TV show about American teenagers when in high school, and had since longed for coming here. Now a University of Iowa junior from Busan, South Korea, said she still has that curiosity of life in the U.S., and hoped to stay here after graduation.

When she started college, Jang said, she didn’t dare to think about working in the U.S.

“I always think I’m afraid of staying here or working here because of the English,” said the communications and marketing majors. “But that was really an excuse for myself. At least I’m going to try.”

Jang isn’t alone. Millions of other international students are concerned about jumping through language hurdles. A bigger concern, however, is to obtain a working visa after graduation.

Jiyeon Kang, a UI assistant professor of communication studies, who originally is from South Korea, said although many Korean students considered staying as an option after graduation, the job market is bleak—not many U.S. companies are willing to sponsor foreign students H-1B working visas on top of a harsh economy.

“So either they are on the job market really briefly,” she said. “Or after learning about their friend’s stories of how hard the job market is, they give up and then go back to Korea.”

Unedited original interview 

Every year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services randomly granted 65,000 H-1B working visas to foreign nationals with a college degree, and 20,000 to those with a master’s degree or higher in the U.S. USCIS announced that it had received about 172,500 H-1B petitions during this years filing period starting April 1. The majority of them won’t  get the visa that would allow them to legally stay in the States after graduation.

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Just over 70,000 students from South Korea are enrolled at U.S. universities and colleges, according to the Open Doors report released by the Institute of International Education. They accounted for nearly 9 percent of international student population in the U.S. Many of them will have to return to their home country even if they wish to work in the U.S. due to visa regulations.

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414 students from South Korea account for the second largest international student group at the UI. Nationally, Korean students do not share a big foreign student market. Click here to view the entire interactive map of Korean student as a share of all international students by state. 

Jang—who said she wishes to work in the strategic communication and marketing field in the U.S.—said the reason why she doesn’t want to return to South Korea is that Korean companies require a high GPA, without considering other experiences, but she didn’t think her GPA would meet their standards.

“But in the U.S., people [are] more focused on what I did outside of school,” said Jang, who gets involved in various student organizations and loves participating in cultural events. “I think that’s really good for me, because I don’t have a good GPA right now, like not bad, but not that good.”

When it comes to male Korean students, another issue comes up – almost all of them have to serve in the military for 21 to 24 months.

UI senior SangHun Yang said most of his friends chose to return to South Korea and serve the military after freshman year, and then come back to finish college, completing military services .

Unlike his friends, Yang chose a different path — he is leaving in May to serve the military with one more semester left. Yang said he was afraid that lots of things would change after two years of military service.

“I just wanted to keep studying when I wanted to study,” Yang said. He came to the U.S. six years ago. “So I stayed here.”

Unlike Mina, Yang said he doesn’t have a strong desire for either staying or returning—he is fine with either way.

“If I go back to Korea, because I speak English, there will be a big advantage for me,” the accounting major said. “Because most Korean companies want people who can speak English, so there will be a big advantage that could increase my salary a little bit.”

He also misses families and friends back in South Korea—the closeness between people. Even though he has been in the U.S. for six years, working in an English environment still “scares” him, he said.

But if given the chance, he would like to work in the U.S., because employees get better benefits here, for example, more vacations and more free time spent with family, he said.

“But back in Korea, it’s like working, working, working,” said Young, who likes taking road trips in the U.S. “They want workaholics, I think.”

The overall Korean student enrollment in the U.S. has declined since 2009, partly because of their limited job prospects here, Kang said.

More importantly, she added, the Koreans have slowly demystified studying abroad after the first wave of Korean undergrads returned to Korea around 2009.

“In contrast to their initial expectations, they realized that a university degree in the U.S. does not grantee a successful job,” said Kang, who has been in the U.S. for 13 years.

Because Koreans have realized that this group of people doesn’t usually fit into the traditional Korean cooperated culture, and that they aren’t necessarily more creative and successful than domestic students, she added.

koren student enrollment trends

More infographic about Korean student enrollment trends here.