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Searching for A Job in the U.S. – An International Students Guide

The total number of new international students in the United States in 2017-2018 grew by 1.5 percent to a record high of nearly 1.1 million. While many of these students will eventually return home country to work (upon graduation), many will choose to work in full-time capacities in the U.S.

A 2014 Brookings Institution report found that 45 percent of foreign student graduates were able to extend their visas to work in the same metropolitan area as their college or university. However, a 2016 analysis by economist Giovanni Peri estimated that for every 100 F-1 students educated in a state, none were working in the state five years after graduating.

Most U.S. Universities, like Berkeley, Penn and Brown offer guidelines for their international students on what strategies will work best in order to find a job. The HBS Career and Professional Development Office (CPD) provides international students, regardless of the career path that they choose to pursue, with access to job opportunities, guidance and resources.

In what ways do international students approach the US job search?

Though it is most dependent on the career vision that a student has for themselves, a lot of the job search revolves around timing. Indeed, some companies (especially those that employ large numbers of MBA students – such as tech, financial services and large consulting firms – will typically recruit students early in the academic year (September and October).

Further, other companies are likely to recruit throughout the winter months (December to February), whilst others recruit closer to spring and graduation (March to May).

It is necessary that a student understand the timing within the industry that they currently study, as well as the degree of networking that the job search is likely to entail. This will ensure that the student has a set strategy based on their planned approach to the search.

Do larger companies present international students with easier opportunities for work visas?

From a category perspective, the most common and sought-after skilled visa category is the US H-1B Temporary Specialty Worker classification. These visas are granted through an annual lottery system, and H-1B visas do not carry a requirement for employer sponsorship.

Given the process is indeed truly random, the student’s likelihood of being issued with a visa is not dependent on the size of the company. It is more important that the student’s unique skillset aligns closely with job requirements.

As such, a larger company will have no advantage over a smaller one, even if the larger one is more likely to have sponsored more H-1B visas owing to its size. Further, it has been observed that smaller, earlier stage companies continue to show their willingness to pursue and secure H-1B visas by lottery.

As a result of the immigrant visa backlog delays that run into multiple years, US employers are more unwilling to sponsor the foreign immigrant if they will not be able to benefit from their immediate employment and labour. As such, immigrants would rather choose the EB-5 investment visa as an alternative.

Does an alumni network have an impact on international student job search?

Alumni networks are not only vast but also incredibly connected. Non-US alumni tend to help students from the same region or country they are from with the job search. This takes the form of either sourcing opportunities for them, networking as well as helping them understand an organization’s culture and its resultant effect on career trajectory.

Besides alumni networks, another important resource for international students looking for jobs can be overseas student networks, like The American University Chinese Students and Scholars Association and the Overseas Indian Student Network.

What are the available visa options for students that wish to remain in the U.S.?

Non-U.S. students studying in the U.S. will either hold J-1 or F-1 visa status, meaning that they are automatically eligible to, for 12 (F-1) to 18 (J-1) months after they graduate, work in the U.S. without the need for a scholarship.

F-1 students are authorized for up to 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) upon graduation and become eligible for another year of OPT when seeking a further postsecondary degree at a higher level. Once the OPT period ends, graduates must find an employer willing to sponsor them for a work visa (for example, an H-1B visa). However, as we’ve pointed out earlier, there are several reasons why U.S. companies do not offer H-1B sponsorship.

The EB-5 visa program is an immigrant investor program that gives the investor a green card in exchange for their investing of a minimum of $500,000. Each EB-5 Visa investment must create at least 10 full-time jobs for U.S. workers, lawful permanent residents, or immigrants authorized to work in the United States.

Given the advantages of the EB-5 visa over the H-1B visa program, as well as the H-1B’s overall volatility, many applicants, particularly those from India, are considering an investment in the EB-5 program over the H-1B program.

Other options include TN NAFTA Professional Worker (eligible to Mexicans and Canadians that work in specific fields), L-1 intra-company Transferee and the E-3 US-Australia Free Trade Agreement Professional worker that applies to Australians, among several others.

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