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Will non US citizens be held back in aerospace/aeronautical courses

yeebleyeeble 2 replies1 threads New Member
My daughter is a UK citizen applying to US universities. She plans to specialise in aerospace/astronautical engineering. However, friends (non-US citizens) have said that this field is hugely `protective` and that it will be impossible for her to get any internship or work experience. This is a concern but perhaps can be sidestepped by looking at smaller companies or even looking at internships in UK/Europe.

My bigger concern is that not having US citizenship will be a major obstacle when studying for the degree, in terms of lessons, labs, any projects with external companies or company visits. Is this a valid concern?

Many thanks in advance.
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Replies to: Will non US citizens be held back in aerospace/aeronautical courses

  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 10854 replies134 threads Senior Member
    edited July 26
    There shouldn't be obstacles for coursework/labs at the school but obtaining internships and work experiences within the US are very valid concerns. Companies with government contracts are not permitted to hire non citizens, even for internships. That will be limiting.

    External company visits will also be an issue although if your D is at a school with a large international population, they will have an alternate visit site for students who can't get clearance. (That's what Purdue did when my D was a freshman).

    It may be a good idea for your D to contact the international student office at the schools she's considering.

    edited July 26
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  • yeebleyeeble 2 replies1 threads New Member
    Thanks momofsenior1. That's a good idea to write to the student office.

    It's a shame with the internship. She had her heart set out for US but this has made her think twice.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 10854 replies134 threads Senior Member
    Not all jobs will require security clearances so that's why it makes sense to reach out the colleges. They will be able to tell your D what companies they have relationships with and where they have been able to place other international students.

    If there is a co-op program, your D should talk to them as well, and ask for their placement rate for international students in AE, where they have been placed, and salary information.

    If a school isn't forthcoming with that information, that should be a red flag.

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  • Twoin18Twoin18 2264 replies21 threads Senior Member
    edited July 26
    Note also that internships in the UK/Europe don’t line up very well with the US semester system (finishing in early May and starting again in mid August). The limited number of US colleges that are still on the quarter system (almost identical timing to UK university terms) would be better aligned for such internships.

    Most of the foreign-born engineers I know in the sector came to the US for graduate degrees rather than undergrad, because that had a somewhat quicker route to the necessary green card. Here’s a good example of someone who’s been extremely successful: http://www.larsblackmore.com/education.htm

    So what is the long term aim in terms of work location?

    Also note that restrictions on non-green card holders in the technology sector are likely to become tighter in the next few years, due to concerns about China, whoever wins the next election. This is an ITAR issue (not one of “security” clearances), and in the last year there has been a big crackdown on university researchers who have been taking money from China to sponsor their research (and in many cases not declaring that sponsorship). See for example https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/harvard-university-professor-and-two-chinese-nationals-charged-three-separate-china-related
    edited July 26
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 25280 replies20 threads Senior Member
    My daughter went to Florida Tech which is about 1/3 international students. Some of the international students do their internships or co-ops in their home countries. Some US citizens do their internships or co-ops in other countries too. The only issue I can see in on-campus work would be with professors who hire students with government grant money or if the student's visa doesn't allow work at all. Classroom work would NOT be an issue.

    I think the pay for the co-ops would exceed that amount students can earn pretty quickly. They'd also not be able to work for a government agency or on a government contract.

    Many of D's friends worked for NASA and other space contractors. They did need security clearances. My nephew went to CU and does work in the space industry. He had to get a full security clearance.
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  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering 7523 replies134 threads Forum Champion
    No issues with coursework whatsoever. There are issues with foreign students in industry for many (though not all) jobs, but since the UK is a Five Eyes nation, your daughter stands a far better chance than most.
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  • Twoin18Twoin18 2264 replies21 threads Senior Member
    edited July 26
    boneh3ad wrote: »
    No issues with coursework whatsoever. There are issues with foreign students in industry for many (though not all) jobs, but since the UK is a Five Eyes nation, your daughter stands a far better chance than most.

    I don’t think this captures the nuance between ITAR (which doesn’t discriminate by nationality) and getting a security clearance (which does, though would almost always be post green card anyway). ITAR is the initial barrier to getting hired in most aerospace contractors, because it covers lots of everyday technology in satellites, rockets, advanced aircraft, etc. and that information would often be openly accessible on a corporate network but can’t be revealed to foreign nationals who don’t have a green card. The effects are widespread, I’ve been involved in patent cases where the judge had to clear the courtroom of any foreign nationals before witnesses could testify and the lawyers had to certify no foreign nationals would be shown the documents.
    edited July 26
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  • jguo25776jguo25776 13 replies4 threads Junior Member
    Foreign born US Citizen here, I am currently in Aero but I want to transfer to Mechanical Eng. because I don’t want to deal with security clearances when looking for jobs.
    I would like to know if there are any MEs that would like to share their experiences when looking for a job? Do they usually require Security Clearances?
    Thanks in advance
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  • yeebleyeeble 2 replies1 threads New Member
    edited July 27
    Thank you all for the useful feedback. It's a relief to hear that there will be no major impact on the learning side.

    We had not considered that the UK internship timetable could be different here. Must look into that.

    In terms of the longer term view, I also wondered if PhD opportunities will be limited in this field for UK citizens too since funding will be from companies with defense related sponsors. Certainly seems possible, as in the case in the link above from TwoIn18 (re: Lars Blackmore), but is this the exception rather than the norm?
    edited July 27
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  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering 7523 replies134 threads Forum Champion
    Twoin18 wrote:
    I don’t think this captures the nuance between ITAR (which doesn’t discriminate by nationality) and getting a security clearance (which does, though would almost always be post green card anyway). ITAR is the initial barrier to getting hired in most aerospace contractors, because it covers lots of everyday technology in satellites, rockets, advanced aircraft, etc. and that information would often be openly accessible on a corporate network but can’t be revealed to foreign nationals who don’t have a green card. The effects are widespread, I’ve been involved in patent cases where the judge had to clear the courtroom of any foreign nationals before witnesses could testify and the lawyers had to certify no foreign nationals would be shown the documents.

    To be clear, ITAR does discriminate by nationality, and if you are working on a project that doesn't treat it that way, you are in legal jeopardy and should stop until you get that sorted. ITAR projects require all participants to be US persons, meaning that by default, foreign nationals are excluded legally from participating. A US person is someone who is either a US permanent resident (has a valid green card) or a US citizen.

    There are limited means by which foreign nationals can work on ITAR projects in the US. Such waivers are not guaranteed, but they are not rare either. It's definitely not a surefire enough bet for making a hiring decision, though. Ultimately, if a job is something that is going to require ITAR work, it's going to require sponsorship of a green card for any foreign nationals, and that presents a barrier to hiring. Such waivers are much easier to obtain for nationals of Five Eyes countries (United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand).

    A security clearance requires US citizenship bar none. The Manhattan Project was a long time ago and most of us are not Nobel Laureates escaping from German-occupied Europe.

    Only a small (but significant) subset of aerospace jobs require a security clearance. A much larger subset (possibly a majority) require the ability to work on ITAR projects, but long-term employment requires a green card anyway so the key issue is how quickly someone without permanent residency could get started on such projects. It's sort of a chicken and egg situation.
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  • RichInPittRichInPitt 2810 replies48 threads Senior Member
    edited July 27
    jguo25776 wrote: »
    Foreign born US Citizen here, I am currently in Aero but I want to transfer to Mechanical Eng. because I don’t want to deal with security clearances when looking for jobs.

    Presumably because it opens up more companies/business that hire MEs? It’s the job that requires the clearance, not the degree. An ME applying to NASA will face the same issues as an AE.
    edited July 27
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