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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, October 3, 2023

An uneasy path: International students’ job search process in the US


Have you ever considered working abroad? While working in a country where you did not grow up might seem exciting, it can be a challenging process from finding a position to getting to know the work culture.

International students comprise about 15% of the Tufts undergraduate student population, a minority compared to the vast number of U.S. domestic students. International students at Tufts who seek to take a job in the United States can face many added challenges, the most common of which being the work visa authorization process.

Undergraduate international students are eligible to work in internships through the auspices of Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training, opportunities that are offered for students with F-1 visa status. However, both authorizations are only temporary and are limited to work in a student's area of study.

CPT allows a maximum of 12 months of full-time employment before graduation and is mostly used for undergraduate internships. OPT, on the other hand, can be continued for one year after graduation and is extended an additional 24 months months for STEM majors specifically. 

For international students who seek long-term U.S. employment, however, the H-1B visa is often the only option. Applicants of an H-1B need a sponsorship from their employer in order to enter the lottery process, which sets a limit on the number of H-1B visas designated to international students each year. 

H-1B visas give international workers a chance to eventually become Green Card holders, which could possibly lead to eventual permanent U.S. citizenship. Notably, the CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, was born in South Africa and received an H-1B to stay in the United States after graduating from university.

The director of the Tufts International Center, Andrew Shiotani, has been working with international students across different institutions and has guided international students at Tufts in navigating the visa sponsorship process for decades.

“A lot of U.S. employers recognize that international students have a lot of skills and talents that are really important, [such as] language skills, cross-cultural skills in addition to the academic and the other specific training that they've gotten through their degrees. So international students bring a lot of benefits and a lot of value," Shiotani said. "But the visa process, I would say, is the most challenging part of this process."

He felt that although the demand for H-1B visas has been high in recent years, the number of H-1B visas offered sometimes does not match the demand. 

Although the number of international students has been rising, the amount of H-1B visas offered each year has remained constant, which is part of the reason many international students feel that it is hard to find a job here. 

Junior Wendy Xu, who has completed internships in both China and the United States, thinks that although the situation varies depending on each person’s career goals, networking and getting to know people can be a very important part of becoming familiar with the opportunities in the United States.

For her, getting involved in clubs like the Tufts Trading Fund paved a path to employment. 

[Networking] with juniors, or seniors or alumni ... helps [you] to know which field you want to look into first,” Xu said. 

In addition, she also found other useful resources such as The Herd, a Tufts mentoring program that helped her connect to a professor whose startup she worked for last winter.

Xu found Tufts alumni to be helpful in the job search process. 

"Tufts is a really small school, and it's a liberal-arts school, so a lot of big companies don’t target us, but because we are [a] small school, it’s more likely for [alumni] to reach out," Xu said. 

Haruka Noishiki is a former Tufts international student who graduated in 2021 and is currently working for a non-profit in Washington, D.C. In comparing big companies and small companies, Noishiki explained that big corporations may be more capable of helping you find a job internationally when the visa process isn't working out.

[Big corporations] have a more robust legal team. Whereas if you're at a small company, you don't really have those resources — you might be the one driving the whole application process,” Noishiki said.

In recent years, conservative politicians have been critical of the H-1B visas, culminating in the Trump administration's 2020 proposal to change the H-1B program that would significantly raise the minimum wage that companies are required to pay employees with an H-1B visa. This would have made it much harder for recently graduated international students to get hired in the United States. Fortunately, the policies were halted by a federal court ruling in 2020 before they could be implemented.

“The previous proposals would have limited H-1B visas only to the most highly paid workers. So that means [for] a lot of people who had only bachelor's degrees or master's degrees, it would have been very difficult for them to get the H-1B visas,” Shiotani said.

When asked to comment on the potential for political debates to affect an employer's willingness to hire international students, Shiotani was not discouraged.

“I think employers [and] business groups in general have been very supportive of the H-1B visa program," he said. “I think everybody knows that the immigration and visa policy is affected by political developments and we all have to live with that."

Though the previous 2020 Trump-era proposal has been stopped, for many international students, the psychological effect of policies such as these are real. Noishiki recalled her reaction to a Trump-era executive order from the summer of 2020 that suspended access to H-1B visas.

Even if I wasn't really sure what the practical implication for me was, it was a really scary moment,” Noishiki said.