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Foreign MBAs victims of US government's bailout policies

New economic policies cost NYU business student a secure banking job

Mauricio Fernandez, an MBA student at NYU's Stern School of Business has had his job offer withdrawn after restrictions were imposed on foreign hiring by any US firm receiving a publicly funded bailout.

Fernandez, a Colombian citizen born and bred in Bogotá, received a job offer from Merrill Lynch in September 2008, and was looking forward to a relaxed final year at business school. "I had always wanted to work in the financial sector", says the 29-year-old, who worked in corporate finance in Colombia for five years before coming to New York. After an internship with Merrill Lynch the previous summer he was "thrilled" when the bank offered him a proper job, "But then everything started to collapse".

The same month he got his job offer, Merrill Lynch was acquired by Bank of America, which subsequently received a bailout of $45 billion through the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). One of the program's conditions is that financial institutions taking up relief are not allowed to offer jobs to people who require an H-1B visa, a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to temporarily employ foreign workers.

Fernandez received the news that his job offer was being withdrawn on February 25, 2009. He was one of seven MBA students at Stern affected by Bank of America's decision.

Fernandez had been worried about the security of his job offer ever since news about Merrill Lynch being sold to Bank of America hit the headlines last year. But at a dinner hosted by the bank, he and others holding offers were assured that the only thing that would change for them was "the name of the bank."

Stern's policies state that a student who has accepted a job is not allowed to apply for other positions, to ensure fairness towards other students: "The main recruitment time for banking jobs is September until December: a time during which I still thought I had a secure job", he says.

It was not until a workshop on H-1B visas at Stern that Fernandez heard by chance about TARP's impact on foreign students. After inquiring at Bank of America he was notified that his offer had been rescinded.

He tried for a while to negotiate alternative routes. "I heard that Citibank, for instance, was sending people to one of their offices in Mexico and then bringing them back to New York after a year," he says. Howeverr Michael Hanretta, a director of public affairs at Citigroup, dismisses this, saying that the bank is: "abiding by the new policies on H-1B visas".

Bank of America rebuffed Fernandez' attempts to be offered an alternative job. Also, according to Fernandez, the positions which were withdrawn from foreign students have not been filled by suitable US citizens from Stern. "I suppose banks might be using TARP as an excuse", he says.

With the insecurity the new H-1B policy has created for foreign students it is not surprising that US business schools have seen a drop in applications over the last couple of months - in contrast to a general rise in the number of MBA applications worldwide.

"The TARP program was necessary to keep the financial world alive," admits Fernandez. But he argues that excluding foreign students from the job market is simply "useless", even commercially: "International MBA students hold huge loans from American banks which they needed to pay for their degrees in the first place. If they end up jobless those banks will not receive the millions of dollars that these students owe them anytime soon. It's ridiculous, and nothing but a populist argument."

Fernandez is now desperately exploring other avenues, including asking banks back home in Bogotá. "But they are laying people off so there is no space for new graduates either."

He will keep up his search for a job that will enable him to repay his loan within the next five years. But if it doesn't work? "I will simply have to go home", he says.

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