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.

Why hiring international students should be part of your diversity, equity and inclusion 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. 


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. 

Jennifer Wang | Student Stories

Tell us about your career path

Once I was accepted to college, I knew I wanted to start my career in the US, to at least take advantage of the 3 years of OPT, but I wasn’t completely set on staying in the country beyond that. I knew I wanted my career to be a global one, so I didn’t mind trying out another region if the opportunity rose.

Growing up, my career interest was always in International Relations; my dream job was in the UN or the WTO, but once I got to the US, I quickly realized that it was not the most viable path for my situation for a variety of reasons out of my control, so I had to pivot. I explored career paths from International Relations research at think tanks, investment banking, to consulting. I knew vaguely that I wanted roles that were relationship-oriented. Ultimately I ended up targeting business roles at technology companies with an international footprint.

After my junior year of college, I started interning for my current company – Dassault Systèmes, all the way to graduation–first in corporate social responsibility, then in business development (sales). I put an emphasis on networking internally – I made an effort to introduce myself to everyone I met at the office, leveraged my alumni network within the company, involved myself in projects promoting the internship program, and made sure to build a relationship with the University Recruiting team in HR. I also had amazing managers who proactively connected me with different people in the company based on my interests. My goal was to really be top of mind for any role I was targeting once the company started hiring, and it worked. When I graduated, I worked elsewhere for six months, but I made sure to keep my connections updated on my progress. When a role reopened, I was immediately contacted about it, invited to interview, and ultimately accepted the offer.

How was Canada part of the strategy?

Canada was never part of the strategy, but I rolled with it as the opportunity arose. When I found myself graduating into the height of covid, May 2020, without a full-time offer in hand, my internship team connected me with one of Dassault Systèmes’ reseller partners in Canada. Despite the pandemic, they were expanding into a new sales territory, and I accepted the offer – the only one I had. My top priority then was to use up the least amount of unemployment days allowed on OPT and maintain work authorization while I continued looking for US-based opportunities, so I stayed in the US while working remotely for a Canadian company. A US-based job was still my goal, but Canada was an acceptable backup plan, especially since I completed part of my education in French, which offers certain advantages in Canada. As a general note, Canada has less stringent immigration requirements for skilled workers, and it could be a nice alternative if the H-1B doesn’t work out.-

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

Although there were practical challenges during the job search, such as getting to the final stages of an interview then realizing visa sponsorship was an issue, the biggest challenge overall was staying mentally confident and positive when it seemed like I was “failing” at what I came to the US to do (get a job in the US). Staying positive was important because that confident (or lack of) attitude spills over in interviews, if I couldn’t convince myself that I was qualified enough, how could I convince an interviewer with minimal knowledge about me that I was the best candidate?

How did you overcome that challenge? What were the most helpful resources during this time?

It required a mindset change where I wasn’t measuring myself based on the outcome (i.e.: I still did not get an offer) but based on the progress (i.e.: I landed X interviews this week or I made Y networking calls this week). To measure progress, I treated the job search like a sales job – I set KPIs on how many outreaches (LinkedIn messages, emails) a day I made to get informational interviews, how many informational interviews I converted from those outreaches a week, and how many job opportunities I uncovered from informational interviews. I tracked everything in a spreadsheet, CRM-style. That gave me mental reassurance and concrete evidence that I was progressing, and even if I didn’t have an offer in hand yet, I could see I was going in the right direction. The most helpful resource I found was my university alumni network — I had the most success getting informational interviews from alumni and learning about opportunities or getting referred to more people in their network to speak to.

What’s next for you?

I’m happy to say that I think I’ve found my career footing in sales strategy, I really enjoy what I do, and I’d like to continue this path for a while. I started on an H1B last year (2021), so I’m planning to stay in the US for the next five years or so, but then I think it’s time to find my way back to Europe, either in France or the UK. I used to be adamant about starting an MBA in the next few years, but now I’m more flexible about that idea. If there’s one thing I learnt, it’s being open to any possibility and rolling with it!

What’s your advice for international students?

I always think back to this analogy my parents said to me during the job search — imagine you’re a well-oiled race car, you may be fast, but if you choose to race on pothole-filled dirt roads, you may not go as fast as racing on a smooth paved track.” Admittedly there’s another argument that “diamonds are created under pressure,” where adversity creates resilience, but my takeaway from the analogy is not to avoid challenges and take the easy road, but to be open-minded, flexible, and strategic about what opportunities you search for and how you leverage opportunities to get to your goals.

May 16, 2022

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 a co-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.

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. 

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 majors

You 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. 

Joseph Lim | Student Stories

Tell me about your time in and transitioning out from military conscription

In the military, I had a good career. I was a popular military barber and I got second place at a national military speech contest. I felt fulfilled reading Japanese novels, Chinese history books, or biographies of famous people in my free time.

But when I got out in April, I actually didn’t know what to do. My life was so regimented in the military. With all this freedom, I felt very uncomfortable. Moreover, I got onto social media, and saw my peers out and about, traveling, eating and living knee-deep in their professional careers.

My female friends had finished two years of college, some getting their first jobs by the time of my discharge. My peers seemed to live a more accomplished life. As for me, I was now unemployed.

What helped you move on from that period?

At dinner one night, I broke down in front of my parents. My parents consoled me, prodding me to rest, read and reflect before the school semester began. While at home, I came across books about North Korean defectors and found myself getting deeper and deeper into my studies of North Korea. There were days where I’d compile databases of North Korean missile tests or the history of North Korea negotiations. I later sent an email to an expert on North Korean studies at the Fletcher School, named Professor Lee Sung Yoon, asking if I could take his course. I’m now taking a second course with him and am a member of a North Korea working group club. 

How was going back to campus?

Before going to campus, I felt like nobody would’ve remembered me. I felt like everybody else that I knew had moved on, already graduated, or in their senior years – that I’d be starting all over again. 

That turned out not to be true. The people I met at Tufts, even underclassmen who I had interacted with just a few times, welcomed me back on campus, saying, “Hey, we should catch up.” My professors are the kindest people. Experiencing the COVID times firsthand, they had a general sympathy for students. That sympathy and understanding really helped me as well.  

What were some of the challenges transitioning back to school?

One difficulty was, although I had a general purpose in helping North Koreans, I didn’t know how to translate that academically, or how to make a career roadmap for the next two years.

When it came to career advice, I realized that I have to ask mentors. At first, I was very reluctant. I was uneasy about this because I felt like approaching a person for networking was ingenuine. I was worried I would give the person the impression that I was using them for my own personal reasons, rather than just getting to know that person for who they are. 

I was surprised to learn that it was normal for career professionals to have students come up and ask about their careers. I’ve learned to accept that networking is a legitimate type of relationship.

How has your university been helpful in your transition?

The most helpful place was the career center. My Tufts career advisor introduced me to a networking platform called The Herd. I was looking for people working at news organizations and found many Tufts alumni who did. I recently talked to a journalist at Business Insider through The Herd, and got good tips on marketable skill sets and valuable industry experience stories. Besides that, the career center provided good career advice, resume feedback, and introduced me to great scholarship opportunities. 

So much of the career advice I got came from my informal networks, like my North Korean student working group. Many students there worked specifically for NGOs and think tanks, working directly or indirectly on North Korea issues. I would ask them about job prospects and relevant skills. 

How are you thinking about the rest of your Tufts and post-Tufts career?

My goal is to go to CSIS – it’s one of the biggest think tanks in the field of East Asian conflict resolution or conflict analysis. It’s an organizational structure that can support having interns, and can potentially support their visa status like H1B1. 

I don’t know if I’ll go international, but I’d love to. There are opportunities in South Korea as well that are perfectly legitimate, maybe that will even lead me back to the U.S. 

Any parting words of advice?

If I could tell something to pre-transition Joseph, or for people who’ve just got out of the military, I would say, “don’t worry.” There are resources available and there is a community waiting for them to reach out to. It’ll be okay.

February 17, 2022

Want to Stay in the US? Transition from OPT to H-1B

When an international student’s optional practical training (OPT) begins to wind down, making the switch to an H-1B or Green Card is a common idea that comes up.

While it is possible to remain in the U.S. on the OPT program for several years, many people decide that a more permanent working situation within the United States could fit their goals better. In these cases, making the switch to an H-1B or a Green Card begins to make a lot of sense.

Making the Switch

The first thing that you will need to do when making the switch from an F1 visa to an H-1B is to gather all the required documents. A helpful checklist can be found here.

In short, Form I-129 must be completed and submitted along with all other required documentation. However, there are a few things that H-1B hopefuls must keep in mind while embarking on the H-1B journey.

Here is a brief outline of the process:

Gather Documents for OPT to H-1B Transition

When preparing a petition for an H-1B, you will need several essential documents.

  • A CV or Resume – One of the requirements of the H-1B is that applicants have a specific field or expertise. Submitting a detailed CV or resume helps the USCIS identify what that expertise is.
  • Passport – A passport is also required for change-of-status requests and visa applications.
  • Degree – Another requirement for an H-1B is to show that you hold a university degree. While there are some exceptions to this requirement, most applicants will need to provide proof that they are, indeed, skilled workers who can fill the job roles they are applying for. Along with a university degree, transcripts are also requested.
  • Forms I-20 and I-94 – Form I-20 and I-94 are proof that an F-1 visa exists and that immigration status is valid. Showing these as part of the process of switching from an F-1 visa to an H-1B visa is necessary.
  • When applying for an H-1B from an OPT program, showing documentation for OPT is also required.

Finding Sponsorship

To apply for an H-1B visa, whether you are on OPT or not, it is necessary to find an employer who is willing to be a sponsor. There are many employers who are happy to do this and knowing where to look for potential options is a great place to begin.

There are two conditions that the USCIS looks at when determining the employer’s ability to be a valid sponsor.

The first consideration is whether the employer is prepared to pay a wage that equals at least 95% of what U.S. citizens would make for the same job title.

For obvious reasons, this requirement is in place to protect the H-1B holder and it is always a good idea to make sure that the employer follows this rule.

Another consideration that the USCIS takes into account is the level of competition for a particular job description. This rule is in place to protect American workers from losing jobs to foreign nationals and the employer is required to offer the same position to local workers as well as H-1B holders.

This second consideration is important to know about because different fields and jobs will carry varying levels of competition and some can be, therefore, more difficult to get approval for.

File Petition

The employer is the one who will file the application for an H-1B. There are numerous rules associated with the application process, as well as a cap on how many applicants can be approved.

While the process and payments involved with applying for an H-1B visa are relatively straightforward, one of the more challenging parts of the process is dealing with the cap that is placed on new applicants. Important information regarding the timeline for the application process can be found here.

Generally speaking, there is a cap of 85,000 new H-1Bs each year with 20,000 of those reserved for graduate degree holders. Regardless of how many new applicants there are only those who ‘beat the cap’ will be able to work on an H-1B. It is good to apply as soon as possible to avoid getting left behind.

Cost of Filing an H-1B

The cost of filing an H-1B is multi-faceted and applicants should be aware of the various fees included in the process. There is a filing fee, an ACWIA fee, a fraud prevention fee, and a legal fee. Here is a breakdown on each:

  • Filing Fee –  The filing fee is required to start the process of getting an H-1B visa. The filing fee is $460, though this is updated from time to time. It is always a good idea to check the latest updates on fees here and here.
  • ACWIA Fee – The American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) states that employers with fewer than 25 employees must pay a fee of $750 and employers with more than 25 employers should pay a fee of $1,500.
  • Fraud Prevention Fee – The fee for fraud prevention is $500.

Final Thoughts on Switching from OPT to H-1B

Whether you are going to an H-1B from an F-1 visa or from an OPT program, the process is pretty straightforward, though not always easy.

Many international students have trouble finding employers who not only meet the criteria to be valid employers for the H-1B visa, but also who are willing to go through the hosting process. The process can be both time-consuming and expensive for some employers.

That should not stop you though. There are many employers who understand the value that international workers bring to the table, and they are certainly ready and able to help.

Check out the H-1B employment resources at Interstride for more comprehensive guidance in finding and securing your H-1B status.

Related Questions

Is it possible to apply for H-1B status by myself? 

It is not possible to apply for an H-1B alone. Part of the application process asks for information from an employer, and this information is required for the successful completion of Form  1-129.

What should I do if my H-1B visa application was denied?

It depends on the reason for the denial. If the applicant missed the deadline or was not chosen for the H-1B lottery, it is possible that waiting and filing early the following year is the best course of action. If the application was denied for any other reason, such as an employer fault, missing paperwork, incomplete payment, etc. A new application with corrected information will be required.


Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students

Working in the United States either while studying or after can prove to be an incredible experience for most international students. For many, optional practical training (OPT) for F-1 students is the first step in that process. 

Seeing what it takes to succeed in the U.S. job market can provide invaluable lessons that stick with students for life. The experience of working in the U.S. also creates opportunities for students that they would not find anywhere else.

Whether looking to build a professional network, gain valuable job experience to help with an application for permanent residency, or anything in between, the benefits are certainly numerous.  

OPT Application Process

The application for Optional Practical Training begins with a visit to the designated school official (DSO). The DSO has all necessary paperwork and will know about any changes or special circumstances regarding a student’s situation. 

The DSO will endorse Form I-20, update the required information within the SEVIS system, and provide guidance on filling out Form I-765. Once the F-1 student and DSO successfully submit the required paperwork, it is up to the USCIS to complete the process. 

In general, the process runs smoothly. It is important to remember, though, that it can take up to three months for the application to process. 

OPT Rules and Guidelines

As with all things immigration, OPT comes with quite a few rules and regulations that students should be aware of. And, while the complete list of rules can be found on the USCIS website and in the DSO office, there are some common rules that all students benefit from knowing. 

Duration of OPT Status

A common question regarding OPT is how long the program lasts and if the program can be broken up into smaller periods. 

OPT can be taken before a degree is earned and after. When taken before (pre-completion), OPT can be used in pieces. When taken after graduation (post-completion), the remaining time – the original 12 months, minus any used time from before graduation – occurs in one session. 

Employment Considerations for OPT

In order to apply for OPT permission, there is no requirement that international students have a job or even a job offer. The application is simply a way to get permission from the U.S. Immigration office to work in the United States. 

However, once you get OPT approval, you will need employment. If for whatever reason international students on OPT cannot find paid work, it is also possible to volunteer for 20 hours a week to satisfy the requirement. 

OPT Unemployment

Although there is a requirement for employment, there is also an allowable period for looking for work. F-1 students with OPT permissions have a maximum of 90 days allowed (from 365) without working. 

This means there is generally ample time to find employment, switch between jobs, and manage time for other considerations. It is useful to note, however, that going past the 90 days that are allowed will make it more difficult to transition from OPT to H-1B (insert link), or from H-1B to Green Card (insert link) later on. 

OPT Extensions

There are two primary ways that international students can extend OPT permission. They can apply for a STEM OPT extension which allows for an additional 24 months or apply for a regular OPT extension after completing a second (higher) degree. 

The Role of STEM

International students who have completed a degree in one of the STEM fields of study can apply for a STEM extension once they have completed the regular OPT 12-month period. The extension can be up to 24 months making it possible for international students to stay in the U.S. for three years after their graduation. 

In addition to the first STEM extension, there is also a possibility for a second. To get a second STEM extension, students must complete another degree, another year of traditional OPT, and then apply for their second round of STEM OPT. 

Final Thoughts

Thanks to various immigration programs aimed at helping international students, it is quite possible for F-1 students to remain in the U.S. after school for a considerable amount of time.  Should they decide to stay, transitioning from an OPT to an H-1B, or an H-1B to a Green Card, is a more permanent solution. 

Related Questions

What is the main difference between the H-1B and the OPT? 

There are some important differences between the H-1B and the OPT. For one thing, the H-1B visa is for longer-term stays. The H-1B is also commonly referred to as a work visa. The OPT, on the other hand, is connected to the student visa (F-1). It only lasts for one year (or two years for STEM students). 

Can I transition to H-1B status from OPT?

Transitioning to an H-1B visa from Optional Practical Training is possible. International students wishing to obtain an H-1B visa should apply for the working visa while still completing the OPT. To file for an H-1B, students must find a suitable employer who files a petition. They should also seek to be included in the 65,000 available H-1Bs each year.  

How long does it take to get OPT approval? 

Approval for Optional Practical Training can take up to three months from the application date. In general, students entering their final semester should begin the OPT application process to ensure a smooth transition. 

Creating Opportunities Through Professional Networking

For many international students nearing the end of their studies, there comes a time to find employment. The process of finding a job can be a bit challenging but creating opportunities through professional networks can really help.

Professional networking is so important, in fact, that more than 80% of all professionals say that their own professional networks helped them achieve success. How is that possible? Less than 30% of all job vacancies are actually published for job seekers to find.

Keep reading to learn how professional networking can help you land that dream job.

Be a Part of Your Professional Network

Before getting into what a professional network is, how to build one, and how you can benefit from building one, it is a good idea to consider the ‘why’.

Professional networks are created by groups of like-minded people. They are comprised of like-minding people interested in finding opportunities, strengthening their careers, and building a sense of professional security.

Given the obvious benefits that come from networking, it may seem like everyone is there to take all that they can from their network.

However, there is another side to the coin. Networks are built through human interaction and relationships. That means, for a professional network to be successful, its members should focus as much on giving as they do on taking.

Essentially, each member of the network should provide some value to the rest of the network. When a person is successful in offering value, the network will also work for them.

Getting Started With Your Professional Network

Getting started with your professional network can be as simple as taking a register of all the people that you know. Fellow classmates, professors, friends, family, and anyone else you have met along the way can be added to your list.

Consider how each of the people on your list relates to your professional goals. Sometimes the connection is clear, other times it is not. Even if you cannot see a direct link between a person on your list and your aims, it is good not to disregard people from your list too soon. It is common for opportunities to come from unexpected places.

The next step is to make a list of professional networking events that are related to your career goals. Whether you are looking for virtual networking events or meetings to attend in person, knowing which events are available to you can prove very useful.

Types of Professional Networking

According to an article published in the Harvard Business Review, there are three main categories that professional networking falls into. Networking can be operational, personal, and strategic. It is essential to understand the various aspects of professional networking so that you can create a network that meets your range of goals.

Operational Networking

Operational networking describes connections that are made within classrooms, workplaces, clubs, and peer groups. These networks work to support current tasks and goals for all members of the network.

Personal Networking

Personal networking describes connections made that enrich a person’s development. These are the types of connections that can often provide surprise opportunities. They are the members of your network who provide value but that value may not be directly related to current work or plans.

Strategic Networking

Strategic networking takes place when connections are made for the advancement of future goals. People in these groups are the ones who will serve a future purpose and may not help with anything at the moment.

Attending Professional Networking Events

Attending professional networking events can be one of the best ways to bring new people and ideas into your circle. From the new connections that you create, there are often doors that begin to open.

The professional networking events that you attend can focus on any kind of networking that suits your needs. Building personal and strategic connections is a common goal for many people attending networking events.

Find the Right Professional Networks

There are many ways to attend professional networking events and it is possible to build a network online without a specific event.

Virtual networking events often take place on networking websites, like Facebook and LinkedIn. These allow for specific groups of people to ‘mingle’ online and share ideas.

Universities often host job fairs and networking events, both in person and online.

In addition, many alumni groups and student associations hold events that help with network building.

No matter what your present and future goals happen to be, regularly attending the right mix of networking events will help you find success.

What Happens After Professional Networking Events?

Once you have completed a networking event, there are some important steps to take. Steps that will help you make the most of the connections that you made.

Review – The first step is to review the people and information that you gained from the event. Organize the contact information that you collected and write down how each of the people on your list can help you achieve your goals.

It is also crucial to make a note of what you can offer to each of the new people on your contact list. Remember the give and take? You will find that your network will serve you much better when you are cognizant of the needs of its members.

Follow Up – After recording all of the necessary information and taking any notes that you deem important to the process, it is time to make contact with your new network one more time.

How you follow up will largely depend on the situation at hand. Emails and social media messages are popular choices. With your chosen method, send a message to each new person on your list. Remind them that you appreciate meeting them. This is also a good time to bring up any value you can add to their lives. They will see how maintaining a relationship with you will be worth their time.


Related Questions

What are professional networks?

Professional networks are groups of people connected by a common interest, such as a specific industry or profession. Taking part in professional networks with other like-minded people creates new opportunities for employment. A well-networked professional may also have access to more resources as a result of the connections they share with others.

What are some professional network examples?

Professional networks can take on many forms. They provide opportunities for personal growth, professional growth, and future prospects. Some examples include international student groups with similar career goals, clubs for alumni, employee associations, etc.

What is not an example of professional networking?

Most professionals would not consider collecting contact information for professionals in your field to be networking. Unless, of course, you do it in a mutually communicative way. Preferably, you should collect contact information in person or at a virtual networking event. Other examples include attending webinars and going to job interviews.