Due to the pandemic and difficulties of obtaining student visas, international enrollment in U.S. universities saw a slight decline during the 2019-2020 academic year. That’s the bad news. The good news is international student enrollment at U.S. schools seems to be on the rise again, which means many international students will be looking for employment in 2022 and beyond. And to better understand the job-search landscape for international students, Firsthand spoke with international student career expert Marcelo Barros. Below is an excerpt of that conversation.
Firsthand: Covid is still very much a reality and continues to impact our lives in a variety of ways. What do you see happening now and next year from a hiring perspective that international students need to know about?
Barros: There’s a big difference between large firms and smaller firms. On the one hand, many large employers have actually benefited from Covid. So, we continue to see aggressive hiring of international students from established, larger firms (like the Amazons of the world) in a variety of different industries. These firms are well positioned to continue to hire new employees to fuel their growth, and in many cases, they depend on international students to fill critically important roles.
Meanwhile, also due to Covid, smaller and mid-size firms continue to find it more difficult to tap into new business opportunities. As a result, from my perspective, these firms have become increasingly reluctant to hire international students who might need H-1B visas. Part of what my company, The International Advantage, does is connect with firms that might be open to hiring international students. We have a goal to speak with a minimum of 20 new firms per week in the small/mid-size space, to gauge their hiring needs and position international students who are potential solutions for them. Lately, it’s been harder than ever for us to convince these firms to consider hiring international students.
So, should students only target larger, established companies?
I’ve been recommending that international students spend 80 percent of their time targeting larger, more established firms in their field, and spend the remaining 20 percent of their time targeting smaller, up-and-coming firms where the possibility of sponsorship may exist. Due to this new set of conditions we’ve been observing, we’ve adjusted our guidance to international students in terms of which firms to target. By carefully adjusting the type and size of firms to target, as well as methodically building competitive profiles as job seekers who seek sponsorship, international students have a chance to explore wonderful career opportunities in the U.S. In general, it’s a job seeker’s job market out there right now, even for candidates who need sponsorship and may not possess much work experience (as is often the case with our recent college grads) but have in-demand skills that set them apart.
International students should also be asking themselves: ‘Is the field that I’m trying to break into in high demand or not?’ Students who might be targeting fields that are in high demand will likely have a better chance to obtain sponsorship from an up-and-coming, niche, smaller firm that’s poised to grow and secure lucrative contracts. For example, health care is a very high demand area that puts job seekers in the driver’s seat with a real shot of sponsorship. Job opportunities for health care professionals will continue to grow over the rest of the decade—and at a much faster clip than other occupations.
So, if you’re an international student who’s in the health care space, in theory you do have more choices in terms of which types of firms to add to your target list, compared to a student who might be targeting, say, traditional retail, which is a low growth area in terms of job opportunities and sponsorship opportunities.
How are universities currently supporting international students’ job-search goals?
In general, compared to last year, we’ve seen a strong uptick in terms of international student career development support. In fact, many universities are levering International Education Week happening this month to offer additional job-search support for their international students. For example, New York University and the University at Buffalo are partnering with The International Advantage to offer a special job-search webinar for their international students during the week. No matter where you go to school, it’s important for international students to investigate what’s available in terms of job-search programming for them during International Education Week.
What do you recommend to international students who are about to graduate and don’t have many, if any, job prospects?
One strategy which is highly effective is to look for an internship post-graduation—ideally paid but unpaid should be considered as well. From the employer’s perspective, hiring someone as an intern is a low risk investment, and one that doesn’t typically require any complicated immigration paper work if the international student can secure an Employment Authorization Card. From an international student perspective, it’s a solid way to get your foot in the door and show your value. This is a tried-and-tested formula that can lead to a full-time paid opportunity as long you play your cards right, the company sees the value you bring to the table, and they’re open to sponsorship, of course.
It’s also important to note that international students have a limited amount of time to stay in the U.S. after graduation without employment, so they need to be careful not to violate their immigration status. It’s critical that they stay closely in touch with their university international student office as graduation approaches.
Any final job-search tips for international students? What else can international students do to improve their chances of securing great jobs in the U.S. in their fields of study after graduation?
As F-1 visa holders, international students are often eligible to work on campus. The International Advantage is currently working with a few universities around a campaign called “get an on-campus job international student.” Essentially, we’d like international students to get excited about leveraging this great benefit of their F-1 visa status. On-campus jobs are great ways for international students to gain U.S. work experience during their studies and start acquiring the soft skills U.S. employers look for. Unlike off-campus jobs, on-campus jobs don’t need to be in one’s field of study. In general, international students can work on-campus up to 20 hours a week during the academic year, and jobs for graduate students often pay $20+ an hour. My message is simple: Apply for on-campus jobs, particularly if your ultimate goal is to stay and work in the U.S. after graduation.
How do students find out about these opportunities?
International students should visit their university international student services office to learn more about their eligibility for on-campus employment. If all our international students do is to go class (sadly that’s the case in many instances), then they’re greatly minimizing the quality of their experience in the U.S.—and perhaps also reducing their chances of securing full-time employment in the U.S., with sponsorship, after graduation.
The benefits of campus employment are obvious, ranging from being able to beef up your resume with American work experience to being able to improve your communication skills by working side by side with Americans. In my opinion, the U.S. government is very generous in terms of allowing F-1 international students to work on campus. This benefit must be fully leveraged as a way to create a path towards full-time employment in the U.S after graduation. Campus involvement is a critical aspect of the U.S. college experience. It’s something that U.S. hiring managers and recruiters tend to value when making hiring decisions.
Finally, another training program available to some international students who hold F-1 visas is the ability to work in their field of study off-campus by levering Curricular Practical Training (CPT). This program is available at some colleges and universities to currently enrolled students from certain majors. Not every university or degree program offers it, but if an international student has access to CPT, they should leverage this perk as well.
Marcelo Barros is the founder of The International Advantage, a firm specializing in providing job search training for international students who seek U.S. jobs. Barros partners with over 50 U.S. universities to help their international students get noticed and hired. Barros encourages International students who seek U.S. jobs or internships to enroll in The International Advantage Get Hired Video Course, designed to help foreign students beat visa odds and secure U.S. employment, including internships.