Challenges and solutions: International students face financial struggles

Chih-Cheng Wang, an international student studied Master of Technology Management at UIUC, working as a risk dynamics analyst of McKinsey & Company. Photo credit: Chih-Cheng Wang
Chih-Cheng Wang(the third person from the left), an international student studied Master of Technology Management at UIUC, working as a risk dynamics analyst of McKinsey & Company. Photo credit: Chih-Cheng Wang

By Ching-Wei Lee

It’s most people’s dream to study, work or live in the US.

Studying in the US as an international student can be exciting experience, but it can also be expensive living in a new culture.

However, there are some difficulties that they suffer from at the same time which is tough for them to overcome. There are many costs that students studying abroad wouldn’t have to pay living in their home countries. For example, they have to spend money and time to apply a visa to stay in the US legally. International students pay $350 as a SEVP (student and exchange visitor program) fee and a visa application fee of $160. All of these are the difficulties that international students in the US must face and to solve in order to stay in the US.

Then there are another costs. According to IEFA, an international student earning a master’s  degree can spend an average total cost $82,510 to $134,510. Housing is roughly $15,000 to $20,000 per year. Other living expenses can average $15,000 to $20,000 a year. For tuition, International students in the United States can pay approximately $50,000 to $90,000 per year, depending on the university and the course. Health insurance can also costs $2,000 to $4,000 a year.

Adam Chen, a chemical engineer at AM Battery talking about the financial issue from an international student to get the work visa in the United States Photo credit: Ching-Wei Lee


“It’s a great pressure for my parents and me to study abroad; however, it’s the only way to improve the quality of our life when step out from the comfort zone and poverty,” said Adam Chen, chemical engineer at AM Battery, a company that is an innovator in the electro-chemical energy storage industry, focusing on transforming the manufacturing processes & performance of Li-ion batteries for EVs, grid storage, consumer electronics, and more. A goal for many international students is to earn their master’s degree and get a job after graduation in the United States because typically the salary in the US is higher than their original country, which is the only way to improve their life and earn much more. International students have to spend a lot for tuition, living expenses, rental fee, and insurance before they get a job in the US. But still, it’s not an easy thing for many parents to spend a lot of money to help their children study in the US as compared to studying in their home countries.

Alvin Huang, an international student earned Master of Project Management at Northeastern University, working as project management assistant at DC solar. Photo credit: Ching-Wei Lee

“Even though we find a job in the US after graduate from the university, we are facing to be laid off at any time which is really cruel for the international students without the visa to support us to stay in the US legally,” said Alvin Huang, project management assistant of DC solar, a company that focuses on solar installation for commercial, utility, public and private clients. Although internationals students find a job in the US, there are some different aspect of economic pressure of living in the US. As of 2022, 43.5 million Americans have federal student loans. Approximately 13% of all Americans had federal student loan debt in 2021, according to Federal Student Aid, an Office of the U.S. Department of Education. Some international students apply student loan to study in the US. Therefore, they have to pay the loan after the graduate and it’s barely to save money at first couple years.

However, there are another perspective from the international student who wouldn’t stay in the United States if he got laid off. “I will not be here if I get laid off, I will go back to my hometown to stay with my family,” said Chih-Cheng Wang, risk dynamics analyst of McKinsey & Company.

“It’s really hard to maintain the long-distance relationship from Taiwan to the United States, the only motivation to support us as long-distance relationship is the financial aspect to earn money in the US,” said Wang.

International students who graduate with STEM(science, technology, engineering and math) program are eligible to stay and work in the United States for three years and to get the H1B lottery one time a year. Once they got the H1B lottery they can work legally in the US for next six years at most. International students who come to the United States to pursue higher education face a daunting challenge when it comes to securing a work visa after graduation. Despite their education and qualifications, many of these students struggle to obtain an H1B visa, which is required to work in the US. The H1B visa is a highly competitive and complex process, and the number of visas available is capped each year, making it even harder for international students to obtain one. This leaves many graduates with limited job prospects, and forces them to return to their home countries, where their American education and training may not be as valuable. The difficulties that international students face in obtaining an H1B visa highlights the need for comprehensive immigration reform that prioritizes the contributions of skilled and educated workers to the United States economy. Furthermore, they sacrifice many in order to maintain to work legally in the United States.

The H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The visa is often used to hire skilled workers in fields such as science, engineering, technology, and mathematics. To qualify for an H1B visa, the applicant must have a job offer from a US employer, possess a bachelor’s degree or higher (or equivalent work experience), and be paid the prevailing wage for their position. This visa is often used by US employers to hire foreign workers in occupations that require a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific field, such as engineering, computer science, or medicine. The H1B visa is valid for up to three years, and can be extended for up to six years. The H1B visa program is highly competitive, and the number of visas available is capped each year.

Every year, there is a limit of 85,000 H1B Visas available, with 65,000 for the general category and 20,000 reserved for those with US master’s degrees. For the FY 2023 season, USCIS received 484,000 H1B registrations. USCIS utilized historical data and trends to select 127,600 H1B registrations for the FY 2023 season, which is higher than usual. Consequently, USCIS did not hold second or third-round lotteries for the FY 2023 season since the number of registrations selected in the first round was sufficient to meet the FY 2023 cap.

Moreover, the application fee for the H1-B visa is expected to increase from $460 to $780, which will make it even more difficult for international students to obtain work authorization in the US. This increase is meant to recover operating costs and prevent case backlogs. However, some individuals may register numerous companies to increase their chances of winning the H1B visa lottery, which is prohibited by the US government. The registration fee for each H1B beneficiary is $10 USD. Typically, visa sponsorship costs around $4000, but it could increase to $8,000 to $9,000, according to Visa Nation. As the application fee for the H1B visa increases, employers may be less likely to sponsor international students, which could negatively impact both the students and the United States working environment.

The challenges that international students encounter is not limited to just one aspect. Even after obtaining an H1B visa, there are still many drawbacks that international students may face. “It’s not only about the ability in your professional area, mostly about luck to win the H1B lottery, people without sponsorship or non-citizen are facing higher risk to get laid off,” Huang said.

About Ching-Wei Lee 4 Articles
Ching-Wei is a dynamic and versatile professional with a passion for both journalism and digital marketing. With a keen eye for detail and an insatiable curiosity, she navigates the world of media with finesse, delivering insightful stories while also leveraging digital strategies to enhance impact.