During the pandemic, the number of international students dipped in the U.S., as traveling abroad for school became less attractive and, in some cases, impossible. Now that Covid is (mostly) in the rear-view mirror, the international student population in the U.S. has nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels. As a result, and with the new school year underway, Vault spoke with international student career expert Marcelo Barros—the founder of The International Advantage, a firm that partners with more than 100 American universities to help international students secure jobs in the U.S.—about the current state of the international student job search, the all-important H1-B visa lottery, and more. Below is an excerpt of that conversation.
Vault: With the rise in international students studying in the U.S., are you seeing or hearing about any changes on campuses?
Barros: Due to the increase in international students, most universities seem highly motivated to offer additional job search support for their international students. This is great news for international students looking for jobs in the U.S. Of course, for universities that host international students, the quality of career support they offer is critical to attracting even more international students in the future.
How have international students’ mindsets changed since the pandemic?
They haven’t really. Still, the primary reason most international students attend U.S. universities is to secure rewarding careers in the U.S. after graduation. Unfortunately, getting an H-1B [a visa required to work full time in the U.S.] has become a distant dream for international students. Last year there were 730,000 applicants for a possible 85,000 visas.
How are international students reacting to these difficult odds?
It’s true that if you do the math, you can quickly see that the odds are very much against the H-1B applicant. But despite the crazy high number of H-1B applicants last year, I ask international students not to overreact. Time will tell if 2023 was an outlier year for applicant numbers or a trend to stay. We know that the most recent H-1B application year was filled with some fraudulent duplicate entries, and actions are being taken to avoid such issues in the future. I remain positive.
Can you talk more about the fraudulent H-1B entries? How do international students feel about what happened this year with the H-1B lottery?
Imagine that you come to the U.S. as an international student and pay top dollar to go to college here. You come knowing that the visa situation is super tough, and that the odds or working and living in the U.S. after graduation may be against you. What you don’t know is that, in the end, you may have to deal with an H-1B lottery system that’s been poorly designed and is prone to fraud. That’s a bit hard to accept. We can’t fail international students. They must always be treated with utmost respect. This is a matter of managing international relations, not to mention that we need international students to advance growth in key U.S. industry sectors such as AI and the climate.
What advice do you have for the new class of international students?
The internship search is ON, and so is the full-time job search. Between now and the end of the year, top full-time job offers will be made. In order to qualify, go the extra mile because if you don’t, your competition will. Always remember that brands on the resume matter a lot. This is a good time of the year to focus on your resume. I’ve visited several universities recently and noticed that international students were too eager to learn about “how to interview.” International students should worry much less about interviewing well and instead worry much more about getting to the table. Meaning: getting selected for an interview. That should be the focus.
Are there any other mistakes that international students are making that you believe they should correct?
I noticed that, in many cases, international students who received multiple job offers were hesitant to allow different H-1B registrations from different employers to be entered in the H-1B lottery. For example, I met an international student from India with a master’s in information systems who was in such high demand during the 2022 fall recruitment season that they received 4 full-time job offers from different top employers—and each one of the employers was willing to register this student in the H-1B lottery. Even though it’s possible for different companies to register the same H-1B applicant if the companies are completely unrelated to each other, this student decided against multiple H-1B registrations in order to ‘play it safe.’ Obviously, more than one legitimate H-1B registration from different employers increase the odds of getting selected in the H-1B lottery.
Any final message or words of advice for international students this school year?
International students should keep in mind that they’ll continue to secure high-paying jobs with top companies in the U.S., and it’s not only the tech sector that will hire international students. So, the opportunity is there. Also, don’t underestimate the opportunity to enjoy fun orientation activities and make new friends with Americans and other international students from all over the world. That said, international students in the U.S. need to understand that they have a limited time to find a job. Even though the new academic year just started, international students must act with a huge sense of urgency early on in the job search race. There’s little time to get acclimated. Seek counsel from your university career center as a start, and figure out job search methods that can be less time consuming and open career opportunities that fully leverage your international advantages and lead to H-1B sponsorship. It’s critical to move with great speed.
Marcelo Barros is the author of The International Advantage: Get Noticed. Get Hired!, which gives international students advice on how to navigate the U.S. work visa system and how to find the job they want. The International Advantage: Get Noticed. Get Hired! is available via Amazon. You can learn more about Barros and his work and connect with him via LinkedIn. Next stops for the International Advantage include: Boston University, Questrom School of Business, October 11, 2023; University of Buffalo, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, November 9, 2023; New York University, November 13, 2023; George Washington University, November 20, 2023; and Computer Systems Institute, November 16, 2023.
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