“A bad time to graduate… worse if you’re a foreign student”

By Nafisa Mayukh

As I near the final year of my studies, the anxiety of landing an internship – the last step towards the completion of my degree – slowly creeps in. My fear mirrors many, especially foreign students, whose opportunities seemingly have become even more constricted due to the rise in unemployment.

 “A bad time to graduate”

An ominous phrase posed as a warning for the class of 2020/2021, with millions of students around the world being flung into the rocking boat of the pandemic, faced with an unstable economy and uncertain future. Conversely, students in Malaysia are no exception.

Last year, since the beginning of the pandemic, forecasted a massive slowdown in the economy constricting market growth, leading to a rise in unemployment in the country. Months into the pandemic, the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) predicted a total of 75,000 fresh graduates twill face unemployment upon graduation, given the economic downturn, forcing businesses to cut down the cost of employment.

Thus, the fear among graduating students has risen with failure to get into companies, or the least, fulfil their internship requirement for graduation.

While government efforts have been made to support local students – through various funds and training programmes such as MOHE’s Career Advancement Programme as part of the National Economic Recovery Plan (PENJANA), it’s another story for foreign students in the country. 

Most are struggling just to find opportunities to complete the required internship mandated to graduate (let alone the far-fetched hope to acquire an actual job after graduation).

Since 2011, Malaysian universities implemented mandatory Industrial training or Latihan Industri (LI) for undergraduate students across public and private institutions, in an effort to prepare students to adapt in their respective sectors, improving their employability in the market. Industrial training, often cited as a credited internship programme in many universities, are meant to introduce students to real-life work settings and open the way for future career opportunities for the students, upon graduation. 

Unfortunately, given the current recovering state of the economy, the future seems bleak, and bleaker for international students unable to return to their country for the time being.

Sadia Mira, a student of Civil Engineering at the Infrastructure University Kuala Lumpur (IUKL), has sent over 230 job application since last year, hoping for a single call back for an interview, but left to no avail.

“The situation for international students were already bad before the pandemic,” Sadia admitted, “but it made the situation even worse”.

While many resort to returning to their home country or seek internship opportunities abroad, upon failing to find one here in Malaysia, the travel restrictions of the pandemic present additional struggle for these students. 

“Most of them didn’t even bother to respond,” Sadia voiced her frustration stating that only 15 out of the hundred companies she contacted actually came back, only to reject her with the reason of COVID-19 pandemic and a little note that said ‘Please try next year’.

She also revealed among the few that accepted her application upon first screening of acceptance, decided to change their mind upon noticing belatedly her passport number and international student status.

‘Sorry, we are not taking in internationals’ – the emails read. 

Looking into any available opportunities, seeking vacancies in companies where her classmates were stationed, Sadia said, “A local friend of ours was nice enough to recommend us, hearing the company was welcoming more people” she spoke representing her other friends riddled with the same problem, “but the company soon changed their mind, hearing that we are international students”.

While there’s much to point towards the companies, for apparent discrimination, there are also policies evident, forcing the situation.

As of March 1, 2021, in the case of work-permit, the Expatriate Services Division (ESD) of the Department of Labour of Peninsular Malaysia announced a new condition for companies employing new foreign nationals to advertise their job vacancies for a minimum of 30 days on MYFutureJobs Portal exclusively for local workers before they can do so for expatriates.

Consequently, it blocks any possible opportunities for foreign students to seek employment after graduating, under a work permit or employment pass. 

While this mostly pertains to those who are seeking longer-term employment, the greater issue appears for those who are only trying to complete their credited internships to graduate on time – but discriminated – unable to do so.

Originally set to graduate this March, Sadia, is forced to extend a semester of her studies after failing to land in a company on time and unfortunately left to complete her degree belatedly than the rest of her peers.  

However, there are still those who were lucky enough to land a place amidst the unfortunate circumstances. Samiha Susmit, a student from Bangladesh was among the fortunate ones to find an open-minded enough company to take here in, looking past her foreign student status. Landing an internship at a software company; JurisTech Sdn Bhd she admitted gaining meaningful experiences at the company, despite partially working remotely and faced with various challenges and miscommunication with clients having to do it all virtually.

“It could be because the software industry is in great demand despite the pandemic, companies are willing to take in more people including foreign interns,” Samiha expressed, claiming it’s comparatively vacant than other fields, as it’s still possible to operate remotely from home.

At the end of the day, even though the situation is recovering with opportunities opening up for all, international graduates in the country are left with a permanent scar of continuous rejections and lost opportunities of experience.

To make matter worse, it has inevitably lengthened these students’ study period, leaving them to fall behind in future endeavours.***

(This article is written as part of the individual assignment series for Feature Writing class)

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