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For Chinese studying in US, graduating into an uncertain future

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Wei’s dilemma points to an inherent contradiction in the trend toward undergraduate study in the US by young Chinese.

In just 11 years, the number of Chinese undergrads studying in the US has risen more than 10-fold, from 7,500 to 80,000, according to the Institute of International Education. Some families sell their homes and drain their savings to send their only child abroad to study.

Speedy success from studying abroad may have been true 10 years ago. But today, the reality is more the opposite: With the number of returnees increasing, many with qualifications that Chinese companies don’t appreciate, Chinese society reverts to the old networking game – finding a job becomes all about knowing the right people in the right places.

In addition, many parents have unrealistic expectations for their child, often their only child, who feels the pressure.

“You are expected to fare well after your family has made this huge sacrifice,” says Xue (not her real name), a recent US college graduate from Beijing who found work in the US. She is one of the lucky few to find a job through on-campus recruitment – and an employer willing to sponsor her work visa.

“At the same time,” she says, “I have few connections that can land me a good job in a well-respected company in China. The fear of going home and not being able to achieve great things is overwhelming.”

If going home poses challenges, so does trying to stay in the US. Under American immigration law, employers must pay hundreds of dollars per year or more for a foreign worker’s H-1B visa. Foreign graduates without a degree in a high-demand field may find the US job market especially challenging.

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