Trips and Tricks for International Students
*This is not Legal Advice and does not guarantee that you will obtain a H-1B or other work visa.*
The first tip we give international students interested in working permanently in the U.S. is to be more informed than or as informed as employers about the process of obtaining an H-1B visa. If you have this article open, you’re off to a good start. However, you need to know the how/when/why’s of H-1B’s and OPT’s. Having a deep understanding of how both of these work will help you negotiate and navigate sponsorship with employers. Here are useful articles that walk you through important details of the H-1B and OPT process. We highly encourage you to read these articles in their entirety before proceeding.
Tips for finding employers that sponsor:
Before you apply on a job board or stop by a company’s booth at the career fair, exercise due diligence. You will save yourself a significant amount of time and energy if you perform significant, educated research on your own. We always recommend looking at these 4 things:
1.) Job Requirements & Company History
Let’s start off simple. Start by reading the job description you’re applying for (fine print & all). If it doesn’t explicitly say that the applicant must be “permanently authorized to work in the U.S.,” you cannot jump to conclusions that the company is sponsoring.
While it would be ideal if every company would put down the work authorization requirements on every job posting, that’s not always the case. Before you go through the entire application process and get to the final round of interviews, check if the company has sponsored in the past. This is a strong, easy indicator to help you. Use sites like VisaDoor.com and MyVisaJobs.com to see how many H-1B’s the company has sponsored and for which positions. If they’ve sponsored in the past or at least petitioned, it shows that someone has at least opened the door in the past to sponsoring. If they haven’t petitioned before, reach out to one of their recruiters to see where their company stands with sponsoring. You might be able to convince them to start sponsoring. (We’ll touch more on this further down.)
2.) Company Size
This is where it’s important to understand the process and costs of petitioning for an H-1B. (If you still don’t understand this process, read this article.) Large/medium sized companies are typically better equipped for sponsoring because they have more money, resources, and time. Smaller companies have a harder time sponsoring because it can be a hassle to do with limited resources. Early-stage startups are rarely able to sponsor because in order for them to even petition for an H-1B they have to prove they can pay your salary for the duration of your H-1B visa. We recommend staying away from startups that are pre-revenue or haven’t raised enough capital to pay 3 years salary. However, larger “startups” that have raised millions in capital are fair game and typically don’t have any problems with sponsoring.
Focus on applying to the industries and positions that are already sponsoring and have a great track record. Nine out of the top 10 H-1B visa occupations are STEM related and most of which are positions at software companies. Applying to positions in the right industry will put the odds in your favor.
4.) “Cap-exempt” employers
There are employers that aren’t subject to the H-1B limit. This means they’re allowed to hire as many foreign workers as they’d like under H-1B status.Examples of these employers include U.S. institutions of higher education, nonprofits and governmental research organizations. Their salaries might not be up to par with those in industry, but they do sponsor. Here’s an article that’s useful for finding employers that are cap-exempt.
Tips to convince employers to sponsor you:
Companies typically fall into 3 categories if they’re not sponsoring: 1.) don’t know how to sponsor, 2.) don’t want to sponsor, or 3.) can’t sponsor. You need to be ready to counter each of these three arguments.
1.) Don’t know how to sponsor
Again, this is where it pays off to understand the sponsorship process for employers in its entirety. You must gain the skills to explain the H-1B process to them in a simple manner but also be largely versed on the entire topic. However, it is important they understand that not everything needs to be figured out right now because of OPT (at least 12 months or 29 months if you’re a STEM student). Explaining to them that they do not have to commit to sponsoring you if they hire you under OPT is a key influencer. This buys you time and is less intimidating to employers. It’s obviously risky to have an employer hire you under OPT instead of H-1B, but you’ll at least be able to gain work experience to make you more valuable to them or other employers.
2.) They don’t want to sponsor
Negotiate. There’s a lot of reasons why companies don’t want to sponsor. The two biggest reasons are timing and uncertainty about you actually getting the visa even if they petition. Try to get them to agree to a short term pilot period (again, under OPT) that will give you an opportunity to prove yourself.
The best advice we give to students that want to work at a company that doesn’t want to sponsor is to be the best applicant in the pool. Be such a great candidate that the value you would bring to the company doesn’t compare to the hassle of going through the H-1B process. If you can prove to the hiring managers that you’re invaluable to the company, they’ll do the best they can to get you hired. We stress the importance of knowing about sponsorship, but the importance of knowing the highly valued qualities that the company searches for in an employee is just as vital.
3.) They can’t sponsor
Some government agencies require that you be a U.S. citizen. Most of these positions are non-negotiable. If they say you must be a U.S. citizen to apply, don’t take it as a challenge to see if you can get it. Move onto the next great company that you can utilize your newly acquired sponsorship knowledge in order to convince them to want you. Spend more of your time on these potentially valuable companies.
Lastly, if you’re a student about to graduate with your bachelor’s degree, consider attending graduate school. This gives you additional time to find an employer who will sponsor you. Also, students pursuing a master’s degree or higher get two chances at the H-1B lottery each year. If they’re not selected within the first group (20,000), they get another shot with the second group (65,000).
No matter where or when you apply to a job, be positively honest throughout the job search process. You can’t change the facts, but you can change how you’re perceived. Although you might not like idea that you require sponsorship (and don’t want to advertise it to employers), you need to be up front with them about your work authorization status. If you’re not going to get the job because of sponsorship reasons, it’s better for you AND the employer to figure that out at the beginning of the hiring process rather than at the end. Companies in the United States want and need amazing talent. Back yourself up with a strong toolbox of knowledge, and then show them what you’re made of — true grit, determination, and talent.