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How can an international student find a job in the US?

Two related questions have come in this week!

Eshani from the University of Missouri asked:

I am a counseling psychology graduate looking for jobs in the fields of career counseling and placements. I am an international student with a valid work permit (OPT) and an F1 visa. I have been following a couple of websites which post jobs in education (higheredjobs, Chronicle of Higher Education, NACE job-wire, etc). Unfortunately, these sites do not post the citizenship requirements for the positions. Could you recommend websites which highlight job opportunities available for international students on an F1 visa and a work permit ?

And, Max at Oklahoma City University asked: 

I am an international student, and I want to work in the US while I am in school. Am I eligible to work off-campus or must I find a on campus job?  What are my options?

Hi Eshani and Max –

You each are asking distinct and different questions, but both are rooted in the same fundamental issue – what options do international students/graduates have when seeking employment in the US?

Unfortunately, that is a really complex question, but there are logical steps you can follow to get the answers you need so you can explore your options.

Step One:  Talk to the Advisers in your International Student Office

Eshani -your University’s resources can be found online at http://international.missouri.edu/come-to-mu/students/employment/index.php

Max – your University’s resources can be found online at http://www2.okcu.edu/admission/international/employ.aspx.

Each student’s situation is unique, so be sure to consult with an international student adviser so you will know YOUR options and restrictions.  Your options as a currently enrolled student are different from your options as an alumnus, so make sure you know what you can and cannot do.

Typically, on-campus employment is a more viable option currently enrolled international students.  If earning money is your objective, that may be your best path.  If gaining experience is your objective, doing some relevant volunteer work or completing an internship for academic credit may be an option.

Step Two:  Research Your Options

There re a number of resources available to help international students assess their job prospects and options in the US and find job opportunities.  Here are a few that might be helpful:

Step Three:  Understand the Job Market in your Field

Make no mistake, unless you are in a high demand field (e.g., you majored in a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math – STEM – field)  it is challenging for an international student to find employment in the US after graduation.

Why is that?  US employers must first consider candidates who are US citizens or who already have permanent work authorization in the US.  This is the primary candidate pool.  When that pool does not yield enough qualified candidates, employers start considering candidates with temporary work authorization (e.g., recent graduates with OPT authorization) and candidates needing employer sponsorship to get an H-1B work visa.

Candidates with OPT temporary work authorization have some appeal but are available only for a limited period of time (the duration of their visa), and unless that employer is willing to sponsor you after completing your OPT, they simply will have to let you go at the conclusion of your OPT (which is just about when you will be fully trained and able to contribute!).

Candidates needing employer sponsorship are most appealing when employers really don’t have any other options.  This is a bit of a last resort because it costs money and time for an employer to sponsor an employee for a work visa, and the government only allocates a certain number of work visas per year (typically in STEM areas, too!).

So, if you do not have permanent work authorization in the US, you have to work extra hard to position yourself as a viable candidate to prospective employers.  You don’t have the option of just submitting applications online and hoping for an interview. By the way – that strategy doesn’t work well for anyone!

Eshani, to answer your specific question:  Employers typically only mention their position on hiring/sponsoring international candidates (citizenship requirements) when they need to do so to attract candidates.  To my knowledge there isn’t a site or sites where employers post all of their jobs with that information front-and-center in the postings.

Step Four: Pursue Employment

Finding employment in the US is challenging for international students, so you have to do everything you can to position and present yourself as a competitive candidate.  You have to give employers a reason to consider you over other candidates that already have work authorization.

How do you do that?

Focus on the aspects of your qualifications that make you unique.  What do you offer that other similarly qualified candidates do not?  Language skills, relevant cultural knowledge, technical skills or expertise, specific and relevant education and training. Show why and how you are unique.

Develop an in depth understanding of the field you wish to enter.  How well do you really understand the profession you wish to enter? Who are the major employers?  What are the employment trends?  Be ready to answer two key interview questions:  What do you know about our industry? and What do you know about our company?

Leverage your existing professional contacts and grow you profession network. Your best assets in any job search are the people in your personal and professional network of contacts that know you and your capabilities.  Seek out their advice and assistance and work to grow the size and diversity of your professional network.

Your career services office can assist you, too! Be sure to seek their advice and guidance.

Good Luck!

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