Discrimination, you ask? Oh absolutely.
Suppose you want a job somewhere abroad. Why not, right? You’re qualified, you speak the language fluently, and you even went to college there, so you have a decent network. Pretty soon you’re even getting interviews, and they’re going fairly well because frankly, as an entry-level applicant, all you have to prove is a cheerful willingness to do grunt work and that you’re reasonably socially adjusted.
And then something happens. The tone changes, caution levels rise. Your interviewer asks you—fairly gingerly—what your citizenship status is. Easy question you think, and you answer truthfully. And before you know it, the conversation ends and you’re back at square one, wondering what could possibly have gone wrong.
Well guess what? This is probably what happens to many of your recently graduated international friends from Wellesley—at least the ones who even attempt to get non-corporate or non-technical jobs in America. And this is what is happening to me.
Forget the fact that most of the jobs companies advertise are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunities Act; one that’s supposed to protects job applicants from being discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, sex OR national origin. Or the fact that the Immigration Reform and Control Act ‘makes it illegal to for employers to discriminate with respect to hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee, based on an individual’s citizenship or immigration status.’ But unfortunately for many companies, the extra money, paperwork and effort that go into issuing work visas to qualified, legally authorized foreign employees usually acts as a deterrent to hiring them in the first place. (The economy sucks, and so on.)
And why not? Axing the foreigners seems like a harmless way to decrease the applicant pool. They don’t have voting rights, so who cares? And hey, they can go back home! Right?
Not for me. Sure, there are plenty of women who will endure a severe downgrade in independence and mobility, not to mention the very real prospect of being sexually harassed and humiliated on the street on a regular basis—all in the day of a working woman in the male-dominated environment back home. And I salute them. But can you blame me for wanting more than that? Especially after going to Wellesley?
But the saga continues. One by one, my international friends—all equipped with fantastic liberal arts degrees—are heading home disheartened and empty-handed. Because for many of them, a US degree won’t really make too much of a difference to their job prospects at home, especially if they aren’t already too well connected. Not to mention the tremendous social pressure to get married and have an army of children. So much for overcoming cultural adjustment, homesickness and that all-too-familiar guilt for leaving home for greener pastures—our reward is an international walk of shame to a fate that we couldn’t escape.
Most of us don’t even bother to fight it. Some of us are forced to consider options with less-stringent visa restrictions, such as non-profit jobs, or grad school. I know some people who got lawyers, but the fee was astounding, and the results, grim.
Ladies, I think it’s time you knew. It’s time you knew that for many of us, unemployment woes go beyond inner battles of pride, entitlement and whether or not we should get health insurance—it’s that sinking feeling of realizing that despite securing a number of great job interviews, something as arbitrary as our lack of citizenship will probably determine how employable we are. It’s time you knew that we continue to fight against the low odds of our success, while most Americans are oblivious that this is happening. It’s time you knew that discrimination in the workplace goes even deeper than you had imagined, and this needs to change. Because equal employment will certainly never exist otherwise. And if you believe that it should exist, then yes, it’s time you knew.
-Saba Sulaiman ‘09