Finding international friendly companies just got harder for international students studying in the US. The H-1B process has been under review this past year. This changes are affecting many F1 visa students who are searching for opportunities beyond OPT jobs.
The New York Times featured a story recently that captures the stressful reality for international students looking for H-1B visa jobs. The article, Is anyone good enough for an H-1B? is a must-read. Here’s an excerpt:
Six months ago I won the lottery — the H-1B visa processing lottery for skilled foreign workers. I called my thrilled parents and celebrated with friends. I’m from northeastern China and have an M.B.A. from Stanford, and was planning to stay in Silicon Valley to help start a company based on a promising new technology to improve the use of data. I was overjoyed because, historically, being selected in the lottery was a near guarantee that an applicant could remain in this country at least three more years.
But at the end of July, I received the dreaded Request for Further Evidence from immigration authorities. I provided the extra information that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services asked for. In September, I got another request. I complied again. Finally, on Oct. 11, half a year after my celebration, I learned I had been denied a visa.
My two requests for evidence asked me to prove my job was a “specialty occupation” — that is, work that only someone with a bachelor’s degree or higher can do. My work involves artificial intelligence and big data, and my letters of support came from an authority in my industry and veteran start-up investor, and a Nobel Prize winner. But it wasn’t enough to convince the government that my job requires advanced skills.
This is a new development. The government is requesting additional information for positions that would normally be accepted. It’s causing delays, anxiety, and rejection among those who have won the H-1B lottery. It also means companies hiring international employees are starting to rethink that option. Employers don’t like risk.
So what can you do? Much of the H-1B work authorization rules are out of your control. So here’s what’s in your control:
Know the basics about the US job search for international students
Start with these two articles:
Search in less competitive cities
I interviewed an international student last year about her experience getting work in the US. She found a role at Medtronic in Minnesota. Minnesota isn’t a state on most international students’ radar, even though the quality of life is good (but cold) and the cost of living is lower compared to East or West coast cities. Target, which is headquartered in Minneapolis, MN, sponsored several H1B visas for software engineers, engineers, and data scientists in 2017.
Make the business case for international friendly companies to hire you
Translation: how will hiring you make the company/department/team better?
Employers are making a business decision to hire you. You must persuade international friendly companies to hire you.
Before you apply to any position answer these questions:
- How will hiring you benefit the company?
- What do you offer than nobody else can offer (especially an American candidate)?
- What problem can you help the company solve?
- What makes you unique as a candidate?
These questions take time to answer. Spend time reflecting on them. The answer help you shape your narrative and communicate your value to employers.
Get creative with your OPT options
I knew a student who pitched a unique idea to a global accounting firm: Let him work in the US on OPT for a year, then he’ll return to his country or another company location outside the US. He was an exceptional candidate. They agreed.
This is an option if you are targeting global companies. To do this effectively you need four things:
- An understanding of the business operations and needs
- An understanding of how you fit into the business
- Good communication and relationship building skills
- Relationships with the people who do the hiring (team members, recruiters, and/or recruiting managers). You can’t propose this the first time you meet a recruiter or someone from the company. They need to get to know you, know your background, and see you are a fit for their company, before you have this conversation.
Do more than just submit resumes online
In some countries having a degree from a good school qualifies you for a job. It may even get you the job. This is not true in the US. Instead, you need a degree plus experience and skills. You just show an employer that you are qualified. That means you have to get experience while you’re in school. So build, create, lead, and share your skills to show your value to employers. Make sure your soft skills are better than anyone else. For example, this is what one student did to get his internship at Space X:
During some self-reflection in grad school, I realized that my resume was weak in applied control theory. So I built a quadcopter from scratch, programmed an Arduino with a controller, tested the system, and flew it. It didn’t fly very gracefully, but it cemented classroom concepts in reality. From a hiring perspective, it also showed that I was willing to seek out knowledge in areas I knew needed work. This is an absolute requirement to work at SpaceX (or anywhere IMO).
Read more about how he got his engineering internship at Space X here.
Pay attention to opportunities outside the US
A lot of students are looking at Canada as an option. The search process is similar to the US; you still need a job offer from a Canadian company. But the visa process is smoother and less restricted. Read more on finding jobs in Canada for international graduates.
Remember this is the start of your international career
You should try to get a job in the US. After all, you are here. You build important soft skills and US network that will help you in the future. But if it doesn’t work out remember there are other options. Learn how to search for work outside of the US. Make a list of companies in your home country that do business with the US and have a location in the US. You may be able to transfer on an L visa after a few years. Or make a list of global companies in another country. Try remote jobs for greater flexibility in your work location. Or try a startup hub in a global city. Global careers come in many shapes and sizes. Stay curious.