Optimizing your job search strategy as an international student

Finding a job can be intimidating, especially for international students facing unique obstacles like work authorization and visa sponsorship. Finding and applying to jobs abroad can be a challenging process, and some employers are reluctant to front the costs of sponsoring international students for permanent positions. So how do you increase your chances of landing the perfect job in the country of your dreams?Luckily, the right framework and job search strategies can help anyone overcome these challenges and receive an offer to work in the U.S.

Managing expectations

Many international students arrive in the U.S. with expectations that don’t quite match the reality of their situation. For instance, some students assume that employers will reach out directly with internship offers or full-time opportunities. They take a passive approach and wait for companies to come to them, only to be disappointed when they don’t hear anything. What’s the problem here?

Unless you’re looking exclusively for on-campus employment, employers won’t come to you.

Once you arrive in the U.S., it’s your job to build a network and reach out to prospective employers. Most companies won’t come looking for entry-level candidates, so it’s up to you to build an effective job search strategy. The Career Services Office at your university can provide you with a variety of resources, information, and even leads on networking events.

Looking for jobs

When looking for jobs, it’s important to focus on your interests as well as your value to potential employers. Employers are looking for value in the following areas:

  • Professional experience – This includes internship experience, part-time or full-time roles, academic projects, and relevant degrees or classes.
  • Industry knowledge – Do you have specific knowledge of a particular industry because of your past academic or work experiences?
  • Functional experience – What roles are you best suited for? Consider any experience or skill you have in areas such as marketing, finance, sales, technology, etc.
  • Culture – Most companies want to maintain a specific company culture or identity, and they prefer candidates that fit this culture.

INTERNATIONAL ADVANTAGE: Now more than ever, U.S. companies are emphasizing diversity in the workplace. This makes applicants from foreign countries and underrepresented minorities especially attractive, especially if they speak multiple languages or have specialized regional experience or knowledge.

It’s also important to target companies with plenty of employment opportunities and a proven record of sponsoring entry-level international candidates. You can use the following opportunity assessment matrix to gauge the best target employers.

How do you go about finding open jobs? While traditional job boards can be a helpful place to start, they should never be your only search tool. Most open positions at U.S. companies are never even advertised on job boards – more often that not, entry-level and mid-level jobs are filled through networking or internal referrals. If you’ve worked or interned for a U.S. company in the past, you can reach out to your contacts there to request an internal referral for open positions in the company. For the rest of us, it’s time to network.

Networking

While networking can seem intimidating, it’s ultimately the best way to find new job opportunities and meet potential contacts at target companies. Luckily, there are plenty of different ways to network (including on Interstride). Networking opportunities include:

  • LinkedIn
  • Existing professional and personal network
  • On-campus career fairs, clubs, and employer events
  • University job postings
  • Off-campus networking and recruiting events

At the end of the day, networking just means meeting new people, learning about their company, and collecting their contact information.

While it can be scary to put yourself out there, recruiters at career fairs and off-campus events are there to help you. When it comes to individual networking outside of a set recruitment event, most people are happy to talk about their jobs and offer advice to young professionals.

Before you reach out to employers and potential contacts at target companies, it’s important to focus on connecting with hiring managers rather than human resources teams.

What’s the difference?

Hiring managers are typically department heads or business division leads who make final hiring decisions. Human resources employees usually screen candidates and provide administrative support to hiring managers, but they don’t make the final call.

Furthermore, hiring managers are the ones with the authority to lobby for your visa sponsorship. So while you may speak with HR representatives during a preliminary phone screen, hiring managers are the real networking powerhouses.

Alright – you’ve gone to some networking events, met some people, and collected some phone numbers and email addresses. Now what?

Informational interviews

Once you’ve met contacts at some of your target employers, you can learn more about the company and develop a professional relationship with your contact by requesting and attending an informational interview.

These are not formal interviews, even if you’ve already applied to a job at the company where your contact works. In fact, you should almost never ask for a job up front during an informational interview.

Rather, these interviews are more like short meetings where you can get to know your contact and gather information about the company. So how do you go about requesting an informational interview?

  1. Reach out to a company contact through any of your networking channels (someone you find on LinkedIn, someone you meet at an event, etc.). Send them a short and simple email inquiring about their availability for a brief phone call or in-person
  2. Prepare a set of questions for the meeting. Focus on your contact’s work history, their role at the company, and any other information you find
  3. Meet with your contact. Be courteous, ask plenty of questions, and don’t ask for a
  4. Send a follow-up email to thank the contact for their
  5. If you find relevant job openings at the contact’s company, you can apply for these roles and request an internal referral of your

Internal referrals are a way for existing employees to refer or recommend candidates that could be a strong fit for the open role. Because of this referral, the candidate’s resume is pushed to the top of the “pile” and receives extra attention from the hiring team.

Resumes and cover letters

No matter what kind of company you’re applying to, most initial applications will ask for a resume and a cover letter.

It’s important to cater your resume to the exact type of role you’re applying to. Don’t include any information that seems irrelevant, and try not to exceed a page or two at most. If you’re applying to jobs in two different sectors (or even two slightly different roles), your resume may look completely different for each application.

Similarly, each cover letter you write should be totally unique. While you can start with a base template for each role you apply to, it’s important to demonstrate a specific interest in each individual role. Employers like to see that an applicant has done their research on company policies, achievements, and culture. Furthermore, the relevant skills that make you an attractive candidate for a corporate finance role might be completely different from the skills you need to succeed in an FP&A analyst role.

If possible, direct your cover letter to the hiring manager or division lead who will ultimately be reading your application.

Work Authorization

Even if you find the perfect job, you’ll need work authorization from the U.S. government if you

want to work in the United States. The type of work authorization you’ll need depends on a few different factors, but it’s important to learn about every type of authorization so you know which options might be relevant during the course of your education. Your International Student Services Office will have all the information you need, but here’s a quick primer on some common work authorizations for international students:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT) – temporary work authorization that allows F-1 students to accept part-time or full-time employment in their academic field after one year of full-time study (i.e., internships)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) – temporary 12-month work authorization for graduated F-1 students to gain practical work experience related to their field
  • STEM extension – a 24-month OPT extension for graduated F-1 students with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM)

H-1B & Green Card – long-term work authorization options. H-1B visas, which are subject to annual quotas, allow international employees to work in the U.S. for up to six years. Green cards, also known as Permanent Resident Cards, allow people to live and work permanently in the U.S.

Backup options

No matter how much energy you put into your job search, there is no guarantee that you will be able to work in the U.S. That’s mainly because the H-1B visa—which is typically the work authorization required after you complete your Optional Practical Training (OPT)—is lottery- based and capped at an annual quota.

If you are unsuccessful in your visa process, you have a few different options:

  • Explore other visa and immigration options – Consult your immigration lawyer to look at other immigration options that might be applicable to your situation (i.e., OL, L1, NIW).
  • Ask your future employer to relocate you to their international offices – If you receive a job offer from a U.S. company but don’t win the H-1B lottery, you can request that your employer relocate you to one of their international locations. Oftentimes, multinational companies can easily relocate a candidate to their London or Toronto offices.
  • Explore international options – Seek out opportunities in countries with less stringent immigration processes. For instance, Canada has favorable immigration policies and plenty of opportunities for high-skilled international students and

As an international student, staying flexible is the key to success! Continue to build your professional network wherever you can, and remember that the value of your U.S. education is global – the scale of your future work will most likely be global as well, regardless of where you work.

Hunting for the perfect U.S. job can be a tricky process, but it’s important to remain focused, stay positive, and keep pursuing new opportunities wherever they arise.

Betty Yao

After completing her MBA at UC Davis, Betty worked at a startup called Pillow, where she began her career in the U.S. After a few years at Pillow, which was acquired by Expedia, Betty joined the Corporate Finance team at Google. Prior to her MBA, Betty worked at PWC.

How to Apply for OPT as an International Student

As an international student, you are eligible to work in the U.S. for up to a year on your F-1 visa through something called Optional Practical Training (OPT). You DO NOT have to have a job offer to apply for OPT. OPT is a 12-month work authorization program that permits international students to gain professional experience without having to apply for an H-1B visa. In general, you must work in a job that is directly related to your area of study. A 2-year extension of standard OPT is available to students pursuing STEM majorsYou aren’t automatically eligible though. You must first apply to the federal government for employment authorization. 

Fortunately for you, the process is relatively straightforward. Nonetheless, we’ve assembled this helpful guide to both explain the program and get you started. 

Types of OPT

You are eligible to apply for work authorization through OPT while you are still in school. This is called “Pre-Completion OPT.” Pre-completion OPT allows you to work part-time while class is in session and full-time when class isn’t in session. 

You are also eligible to apply for OPT after you graduate for either part-time or full-time work. This is called…any guesses? 

“Post-Completion OPT.”

The government allows you to take advantage of both types. You aren’t limited to just one. However, you ARE limited to 12 months total of full-time equivalent work for both pre-completion and post-completion combined.  

So, you’ll want to think strategically about how you use your 12 months. Most students wait to start their OPT until after they’ve graduated. 

OPT and STEM Majors

STEM OPT is a 2-year extension of standard OPT for recent graduates who have completed their education in a science, technology, engineering or math degree program. 

To be eligible for STEM OPT, you must have already been granted OPT. Furthermore, the government will only grant STEM OPT to those who are in “Post-Completion” OPT. In other words, the program is for graduates, not current students. 

Combining Post-Completion OPT with the STEM extension allows you to stay in the U.S. for three years after graduation on your F-1 student visa. 

You can learn more about the program on the Department of Homeland Security’s Study in the States STEM OPT website. 

OPT Eligibility

You DO NOT have to have a job offer to apply for OPT. 

In order to apply for optional practical training, you must be able to respond “yes” to the following questions:

  • Is your I-20 current?
  • Have you been a full-time student for at least one full academic year?
  • Do you have a valid, unexpired passport?
  • Have you used fewer than 12 months of full-time curricular practical training?
  • Does it reflect your current field of study and educational level?
  • Have you been registered full-time as an F-1 student every semester you attended school? 

Thinking ahead: When should you apply for OPT?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for the OPT program. After you apply for work authorization through OPT, it can take the USCIS up to three months to process your application and mail your employment authorization card.

So, you need to think ahead a little and not wait until the last minute to get started. 

You are not eligible to begin Pre-Completion OPT until you have completed a year of study in the U.S. as an F-1 student. Nonetheless, the government allows you to apply as early as 90 days before you even begin your first year. If you think you might work as a student, you should consider starting the application process as soon as possible. 

If you are seeking Post-Completion OPT, the application window is more restrictive. 

For post-completion, you can apply between 90 days before graduation and 60 days after graduation. 

How to apply for OPT

Now that you know to start early and allow yourself plenty of time, what exactly does starting the process look like?

Your first step will be to see if your college or university can help. Fortunately for you, many international centers offer resources, information sessions, and one-on-one counseling to help students with OPT. 

Then, have your Designated School Official (DSO) endorse your Form I-20 (Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status) and make the appropriate notation in your profile in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). This step is something your DSO will already understand without you having to explain anything. The school is likely to have a process in place for this already, usually as an online form through the school’s website. 

Next, fill out Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) and mail it to USCIS. 

You can fill out the form as a printable PDF online and then print it. Or, you can print it and then fill it out by hand using black ink. 

The form is seven pages long and has basic questions about your identity, immigration status, eligibility, and reason for applying. You are allowed to have an interpreter help or a preparer fill out the form based on the information you provided, but you must identify those people and they must sign it. 

The government uses this form for other immigration statuses as well, including asylum seekers and dependents of foreign diplomats. So there may be some sections that do not apply to you as an F-1 student. The form has detailed instructions for how to fill out those sections that don’t apply. 

Finally, consider having an advisor at your school look over the form before you mail it in.

You’re approved for OPT! Now what?

OPT is a short program. Those 12 months will be up before you know it, and you need to be ready for the next phase in your life. 

If you studied in the sciences, technology, engineering or mathematics fields, you may be eligible for a 24-month extension once your original OPT runs out. 

Otherwise, you are going to want to apply for H-1B status. Getting an H1-B is not easy, and the process is highly competitive. So you should always have a Plan B. 

Good luck on your OPT journey. If you remember to start early and work closely with your university, you should be just fine. 

Optional Practical Training (OPT) vs. STEM OPT

As an international student, you’ve probably read or heard about Optional Practical Training (OPT) and maybe even STEM OPT. 

Both are work authorization programs for students in the United States on an F-1 visa. But what’s the difference?

In a nutshell, STEM OPT is a 3-year extension of standard OPT for students or recent graduates who are studying or have completed their education in a science, technology, engineering or math degree program. 

But let’s take a closer look at both. 

What is OPT

OPT is a 12-month work authorization program that permits international students to gain professional experience without having to apply for an H-1B visa. In general, you must work in a job that is directly related to your area of study. 

You are eligible to apply for work authorization through OPT while you are still in school. This is called “Pre-Completion OPT.” You are also eligible to apply for OPT after you graduate through “Post-Completion OPT.” 

Post-completion OPT has the added benefit of allowing you to remain in the United States on an F-1 visa after you graduate. 

The government allows you to take advantage of both types. However, there IS a 12-month limit. That includes full-time equivalent work for both pre-completion and post-completion combined.  

The overwhelming majority of students wait until after graduation to take advantage of OPT. This strategic decision allows them to maximize their time in the United States through the program. 

In 2018, for example, almost 200,000 students received either post-completion OPT or the STEM extension. Only about 2,000 students applied for and were granted pre-completion OPT. 

OPT in one form or another has existed in the United States since 1947. 

All students are eligible to apply for OPT, regardless of their major. Most schools have staff and resources through their international centers to help students navigate OPT. 

Because OPT is a relatively short program, students should always think about what their options are for after their 12 months is over. Once your post-completion period ends, you need to seek alternative options for continuing your career. 

The end of OPT is a time when many recent international graduates will apply for an H-1B visa. H-1B visas, though, are highly competitive, and students should always have a Plan B. 

For those with STEM backgrounds, your plan B could include applying for the STEM OPT extension. 

What is STEM OPT

The U.S. government has a vested interest in making sure that there are enough people in the American workforce with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. These professionals are in high demand, and the U.S. economy depends heavily on manufacturing,  technology and other industries that need STEM talent. 

The government launched the STEM extension program in 2008, and initially it permitted 17 months of additional employment. In 2016, however, the government changed it to 24 months. 

In 2018, more than 50,000 students were granted the STEM extension. That number is likely to grow under the Biden administration. That’s because President Joe Biden announced he was expanding the list of academic fields that qualify as STEM degrees

To be eligible for STEM OPT, you must have already been granted OPT. Furthermore, the government will only grant STEM OPT to those who are in “Post-Completion” OPT. In other words, the program is for graduates, not current students. 

Combining Post-Completion OPT with the STEM extension allows you to stay in the U.S. for three years after graduation on your F-1 student visa. 

You can learn more about the program on the Department of Homeland Security’s Study in the States STEM OPT website. 

Seven Reasons Why Employers Should Hire International Graduates

For a long time, the United States has led all other countries as the top destination for international students.Our exceptional colleges and universities deserve a lot of credit, but you can’t overlook the allure of the American economy. Many come here not only to learn, but also to begin their careers.

This reality creates an inter-dependent relationship between academia and the business community at large. American companies need strong higher-ed institutions to serve as magnets for international talent. However, those same companies must keep up their end of the bargain by creating career opportunities for international students when they graduate.

Politics aside, the goal of this article is not to discuss whether immigration of skilled labor is good or bad. It is to encourage employers to continue to do their part to support this educational and economic network.

It starts with inclusive recruiting and hiring practices. Here are seven reasons why employers should hire recent international grads.

1. Most international students do not need visa sponsorship

Many employers assume an international graduate will need work sponsorship through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The benefits to the employer of hiring the right person always outweigh the extra effort that come with the sponsorship process. Nonetheless, some employers shy away from sponsorship out of concern that it is a hassle.

However, international students who are enrolled at a university or who have recently graduated do not necessarily need sponsorship to work.

After graduation, international students can apply for what is called optional practical training, or OPT. In a nutshell, OPT permits someone to stay in the country for up to 12 months on a student visa while working. Between 2004 and 2016, nearly 1.5 million people took advantage of OPT to remain and work in the United States.

After OPT runs out, those who have earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering, or math fields can apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.

OPT allows employers to take a chance on an international student or recent graduate for up to three years without filling out any additional paperwork.

After an employee has exhausted their OPT, they can apply for work sponsorship or petition the government for a green card that would allow them to remain in the United States as a permanent resident.

2. International graduates bring diversity

We all know the benefits of a diverse workforce, and they have nothing to do with meeting quotas or political correctness.

Like your stock portfolio, diversity increases performance. In 2017, Boston Consulting Group surveyed 1,700 companies in eight countries to research the work benefits of diversity. The group’s study established that diverse teams drive innovation and that they produce 19 percent more revenue than their non-diverse counterparts.

When employers think about diversity, they often think about domestic talent. Hiring international graduates, however, can fulfill a whole host of diversity initiatives, from nationality to religion to language as well as to race and ethnicity.

Perhaps most importantly, international graduates bring diverse thinking styles and experiences, the very qualities that can help your team solve a sticky problem, expand to other markets, or develop new technologies.

3. International graduates are loyal

More than half of recent college graduates will leave their first job within a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Almost as if they are dating, young domestic employees tend to bounce around until they find a job that they consider to be a good match with their interests and career goals.

This is not the case, however, for international grads.

Being here on a visa, whether it is a traditional six-year H-1B work visa or an F-1 student visa with an OPT extension, makes it less attractive for international employees to play the field. It’s not that they are prohibited from quitting a job; it’s just that doing so subjects them to a host of rules and reporting requirements. In addition, in some instances, such a move could jeopardize their immigration status.

Recent international graduates aren’t just loyal out of necessity or convenience. They are legitimately grateful of the opportunity their employer has extended to them, often more so than domestic hires are.

4. They’re hungry for work

If given the chance, 80% of international students would stay in the United States to start their careers after graduating.

It makes sense for them financially. They just spent a substantial amount of money on a college education, and the return on that investment is better here than in an emerging economy where the wages are low. After all, many of them still have loans to pay.

The truth is, though, that the same 80% end up returning home mainly because of immigration hurdles and inability to find work.

5. There is limited competition for top talent

In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported on a frustrating trend: More U.S. companies began to advertise jobs with requirements that candidates be U.S. citizens or legal residents. These companies blamed political uncertainty over the future of work visas in the United States.

According to the article, one M.B.A. graduate originally from Pakistan sent out 1,000 applications before finally landing a position as a senior financial analyst.

With new federal leadership, it’s time to quit leaving all this talent on the table. Don’t wait, either. Start recruiting now while the competition remains low.

6. Hosting international talent benefits the overall economy

Educating international students contributes $41 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

In fact, education is our fourth largest export, after cars, planes, and pharmaceuticals.

The number of international students in the United States at any given time is about 1.1 million, with around 300,000 new students arriving here each year to begin their educations. Simply put, the United States is the Holy Grail of international higher education.

The benefits to the economy don’t end at graduation either.

Statistics show that larger numbers of OPT workers in the country correlate with a lower unemployment rate. Researchers think this correlation might be because those workers are driving the kind of innovation that creates jobs.

7. It ensures continuous talent flow.

Like a championship basketball program, successful economies recruit from all over the place.

But that process doesn’t start when talented international students graduate and start their job hunt. It starts with student enrollment. Right now, enrollment is down.

In the 2015/2016 academic year, 300,743 new international students enrolled for the first time at a U.S. institution. By the 2018/2019 academic year, that figure had declined by 10%.

The eventual result is an overall hiring pool that’s a little bit shallower.

Employers can do their part to help turn the tide and ensure we continue to attract the world’s best young workers. Actively recruiting and hiring international students goes a long way, but employers might also want to go a step further. Employers can reach out to colleges and universities in their region or that have degree programs in their areas of need to see how they can partner.

Setting up an internship program for international students or developing some other sort of college-to-workforce pipeline would prove mutually beneficial for the recruitment efforts of both university and employer.

Think about your own history. Whether you are the daughter of immigrants or the great-great-great-great grandson of immigrants, you owe a debt of gratitude to that person who overlooked an accent and maybe an unusual name and hired the first person in your family to set foot on American soil.

As an employer, you have the opportunity to pay that good fortune forward while also reaping these seven benefits to hiring international talent.

Take advantage of it.

This article was originally written by Interstride’s CEO, Nitin Agrawal, and published on the NACE blog.

7 Myths About Hiring International Students

As of March 2022, there were 5.6 million more jobs than there were available workers in the U.S. The unemployment rate is barely registering, hovering near record lows at roughly 3 percent. 

The Great Resignation that happened during the Coronavirus pandemic has created a historically tight labor market, with no end in sight. The shortage of workers has affected every industry and almost every business, resulting in delays for everything from hamburgers to high-end automobiles.

Yet, still, many American companies remain reluctant to hire international students and recent international graduates of American universities and colleges. The decision to overlook this sizable and talented pool of prospective employees is often based on bad information. 

Unfortunately, many hiring managers misunderstand the American immigration system, resulting in lost opportunities for both the companies and foreign nationals. 

Let’s take a closer look at seven of the most pervasive myths and why they are wrong. 

Myth 1: I need to sponsor their visa

For international students and recent international graduates, this simply isn’t true. That’s because these two groups are eligible to work in the U.S. after graduation for up to three years on their F-1 student visas through a program called Optional Practical Training (OPT). 

The standard OPT is a 12-month work authorization program that permits international students in all career fields to gain professional experience without having to apply for an H-1B visa. In general, you must work in a job that is directly related to your area of study. 

A two-year extension of standard OPT is available to those who have earned science, technology, engineering or manufacturing (STEM) degrees. This includes a wide range of degrees, in psychology, economics, business, and more, and are not colloquially considered STEM but are nevertheless STEM-designated by the Department of Homeland Security. 

Each year, about 200,000 workers who came to the U.S. as international students gain valuable experience through the OPT program, with about a quarter of those working under the STEM extension program. 

In 2022, President Biden expanded the STEM extension program to include 22 new degree programs. So there is a good chance that your company may be eligible to hire under the STEM extension. 

Myth 2: It’s expensive

Myth 2 is an extension of the sponsorship myth. Many employers think they must sponsor young international workers, which does require an investment on the part of the employer. 

But, again, sponsorship is not required for international students who are still in school or who have recently graduated. For those who are eligible to work through the OPT program, there is no additional cost to the employer when compared to hiring domestic employees.

Myth 3: It’s time-consuming

Again, the reason this myth is wrong is because of the invaluable OPT program. Because the program allows people to work under their student visa for a period of time, no additional work is required. 

All you must do is provide an offer letter, just as you would for a domestic job applicant. By educating yourself on the process of hiring international students, you can actually save yourself and international candidates time.  

Myth 4: I have to prove they are not taking jobs from Americans

No. First of all, with the job market the way it is right now, nobody is “taking” jobs from anybody. After all, there are about two jobs out there for every one person looking for a job. 

Nonetheless, even in a more normal job market, this is not true. Again, this myth is a misunderstanding of the OPT program, which has no such requirement. Employers must provide such documentation only when hiring and sponsoring foreign citizens for permanent resident status. 

Myth 5: I need a lawyer

Again, OPT is easy to navigate and does not require any additional work compared to hiring domestic workers. Therefore, you do not need a lawyer. 

Myth 6: They will leave

This myth poses a legitimate question: What happens after a student’s OPT work authorization runs out. Unfortunately, the myth comes up with the wrong answer. 

Most employees who came to the U.S. as international students will not leave. Instead, they’ll apply for a new visa status through the H-1B program, which authorizes work for another 6 years. Admittedly, H-1B is a bit trickier for the company. This is when the employer must apply on behalf of the employee, with related costs ranging from $5,000 to $7,000, primarily in legal fees. 

Still, that’s a small price to pay to keep an employee that is already trained and now has experience under his or her belt, especially when a labor market is as tight as it is. According to recent research, the average cost to onboard a new employee is about $4,000. 

Even if H-1B doesn’t successfully go through or you choose a pathway other than H-1B, there are many other alternatives for you to retain your international talent. 

Myth 7: They won’t fit in

International graduates bring the best of both worlds. They had robust experience in the U.S. academically through their degrees, socially through their lived experience, and professionally through various on-campus and off-campus internships. They also bring diverse perspectives from different cultural backgrounds – and for graduate students, often international work experience – that will add to your team. If anything, international graduates have tremendous adaptability. They understand how to adapt to new countries, cultures, and work environments. Recent research has discovered that 45 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. were founded by immigrants or by their children. 

Whether they fit in is up to you more than it is up to them. 

It is also up to you to take advantage of international graduates as a valuable and diverse pool of skilled talent. 

Why Hiring International Students Should Be Part of Your DEI Plan

Recent events have shined a spotlight on the problem of systemic injustice in the United States. 

The business community has responded admirably, with initiatives to help break down barriers and close the opportunity gap for those from underrepresented communities. While not often implicitly expressed, much of the focus around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has been on tackling the biases that have disadvantaged domestic minorities for centuries. 

When employers think about diversity, they often think about getting the right mix of African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latino-Americans, for example. 

We should all commend businesses for these efforts while also encouraging leaders to recognize international students in their DEI initiatives. International students, especially those of color, also face systemic barriers that deserve our attention. Furthermore, they act as a force multiplier in DEI, supercharging your efforts to build a high-performance team that approaches problems from multiple angles. 

Why diversity is great for business

Like your stock portfolio, diversity increases performance. In 2017 Boston Consulting Group surveyed 1,700 companies in eight countries to research the work benefits of diversity. The group’s study established that diverse teams drive innovation and that they produce 19 percent more revenue than their non-diverse counterparts. 

Hiring international students fulfills a whole host of diversity initiatives, from culture, to race to language and nationality, too. 

Cultural diversity

Cultural diversity is a bit of a catch-all. As such, when people talk about diversity in general, they are often talking about cultural diversity. That’s because, depending on your policies and definitions, it can includes such identifiers as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Sexuality
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Abilities and disabilities
  • Military experience  
  • and more!

The biggest benefit of cultural diversity is that it results in diverse thinking styles and experiences, the very qualities that can help your team solve a sticky problem, expand to other markets or develop new technologies. 

Racial and ethnic diversity

Representation matters. And a racially and ethnically diverse workforce accomplishes two objectives. First, it helps you recruit and retain the most talented people. When minority job prospects can see themselves in your existing workforce, they feel more welcomed. Second, it improves your outreach to clients and prospective clients for the very same reason. It’s about creating a welcoming environment for everyone. 

If this all sounds hypothetical, consider this: McKinsey & Company identified a company’s racial and ethnic diversity as one of the key predictors of financial performance. They found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

Linguistic diversity

Business is about building relationships. The more languages your company speaks, the more relationships you can build. 

Multilingual employees help expand businesses regionally and internationally. They can help recruit and train new staff. Some executives report that multilingual employees are naturally more creative and better problem solvers. 

Switzerland’s multilingual heritage gives the country a competitive advantage in business that economists estimate accounts for 10 percent of the country’s GDP

National diversity

The top 10 countries of origin of international students in the U.S. span East Asian, South Asia, North America, South America, and the Middle East. Like linguistic diversity, national diversity is important, especially for international and multinational corporations. Employees who understand a country’s culture, language, politics and government can be incredibly helpful when it comes to expanding into new markets or better understanding your existing foreign markets. 

But isn’t it expensive and difficult to hire international students?

Perhaps one reason international students often get overlooked in DEI decision making is that there is a misconception that hiring them is a headache. 

This is one of the many common myths around hiring international students. For early career opportunities after graduation, there’s cost and action required, such as sponsorship to hire an international student for up to three years on OPT. 

The Takeaway

It’s clear: international students represent all levels of diversity and should be part of your diversity and inclusion strategy. Whether in sourcing and engaging students, crafting your employer brand, and ensuring a positive candidate experience, designing for international students will pay dividends. 

Why Hiring International Students Can Help Fill Your Talent Gap

If you are a business executive or a hiring manager, we don’t need to tell you how tight the job market is right now.

In the United States, there are about two job openings for every one person looking for a job. But what you may not know is that there is an overlooked labor market eager to work in the U.S. and in sophisticated economies worldwide.

Who are we talking about? U.S.-educated international students. 

What the numbers show

According to a May 2022 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States recorded record job openings in March 2022, around 11.5 million. Hires for that month, however, only numbered about 6.7 million. 

That same report shows a growing demand for college-educated employees in high-skill industries. Openings by industry included:

  • Health care and social services: 2.1 million
  • Professional and business services: 2.1 million
  • Manufacturing 860,000
  • Finance and insurance: 370,000
  • Information: 202,000

Not only are the vacancies unfilled, American students “are not entering those industries in sufficient numbers, and the United States is projected to face a shortage of one million STEM workers by 2022,” according to the New American Economy. This is where international students in in-demand skills come in. 

Untapped talent 

In any given year, there are about 1.1 million international students earning degrees at U.S. colleges and universities. They come here because the global economy recognizes American degrees as the finest in the world, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

As part of their degrees, international students are legally authorized to work in the U.S. for internships and full-time jobs; those with STEM degrees are eligible to work for up to three years after graduation, before any cost or paperwork may be required of the employer. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO said that allowing more immigrants into the U.S. would help mitigate inflation and labor shortage. “We need more workers,” Suzanne Clark said. “We should welcome people who want to come here, go to school, and stay.”

While systemic immigration reform is needed, there’s nothing stopping employers from better tapping into the pool of students and graduates from top schools who are already in the U.S. today and eager for opportunities.

Besides just filling vacancies in your organization, there are plenty of reasons why you should hire international students, including how they may serve your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives.