February 23, 2021
Nitin Agrawal is founder and CEO of Interstride
For a long time, the United States has led all other countries as the top destination for international students.
Our exceptional colleges and universities deserve a lot of credit, but you can’t overlook the allure of the American economy. Many come here not only to learn, but also to begin their careers.
This reality creates a co-dependent relationship between academia and the business community at large. American companies need strong higher ed institutions to serve as magnets for international talent. However, those same companies must keep up their end of the bargain by creating career opportunities for international students when they graduate.
Politics aside, the goal of this article is not to discuss whether immigration of skilled labor is good or bad. It is to encourage employers to continue to do their part to support this educational and economic network.
It starts with inclusive recruiting and hiring practices.
Here are seven reasons why employers should hire recent international grads.
1. Most international students do not need visa sponsorship
Many employers assume an international graduate will need work sponsorship through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The benefits to the employer of hiring the right person always outweigh the extra effort that come with the sponsorship process. Nonetheless, some employers shy away from sponsorship out of concern that it is a hassle.
However, international students who are enrolled at a university or who have recently graduated do not necessarily need sponsorship to work.
After graduation, international students can apply for what is called optional practical training, or OPT. In a nutshell, OPT permits someone to stay in the country for up to 12 months on a student visa while working. Between 2004 and 2016, nearly 1.5 million people took advantage of OPT to remain and work in the United States.
After OPT runs out, those who have earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering, or math fields can apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.
OPT allows employers to take a chance on an international student or recent graduate for up to three years without filling out any additional paperwork.
After an employee has exhausted their OPT, they can apply for work sponsorship or petition the government for a green card that would allow them to remain in the United States as a permanent resident.
2. International graduates bring diversity
We all know the benefits of a diverse workforce, and they have nothing to do with meeting quotas or political correctness.
Like your stock portfolio, diversity increases performance. In 2017, Boston Consulting Group surveyed 1,700 companies in eight countries to research the work benefits of diversity. The group’s study established that diverse teams drive innovation and that they produce 19 percent more revenue than their non-diverse counterparts.
When employers think about diversity, they often think about domestic talent. Hiring international graduates, however, can fulfill a whole host of diversity initiatives, from nationality to religion to language as well as to race and ethnicity.
Perhaps most importantly, international graduates bring diverse thinking styles and experiences, the very qualities that can help your team solve a sticky problem, expand to other markets, or develop new technologies.
3. International graduates are loyal
More than half of recent college graduates will leave their first job within a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Almost as if they are dating, young domestic employees tend to bounce around until they find a job that they consider to be a good match with their interests and career goals.
This is not the case, however, for international grads.
Being here on a visa, whether it is a traditional six-year H-1B work visa or an F-1 student visa with an OPT extension, makes it less attractive for international employees to play the field. It’s not that they are prohibited from quitting a job; it’s just that doing so subjects them to a host of rules and reporting requirements. In addition, in some instances, such a move could jeopardize their immigration status.
Recent international graduates aren’t just loyal out of necessity or convenience. They are legitimately grateful of the opportunity their employer has extended to them, often more so than domestic hires are.
4. They’re hungry for work
If given the chance, 80% of international students would stay in the United States to start their careers after graduating.
It makes sense for them financially. They just spent a substantial amount of money on a college education, and the return on that investment is better here than in an emerging economy where the wages are low. After all, many of them still have loans to pay.
The truth is, though, that the same 80% end up returning home mainly because of immigration hurdles and inability to find work.
5. There is limited competition for top talent
In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported on a frustrating trend: More U.S. companies began to advertise jobs with requirements that candidates be U.S. citizens or legal residents. These companies blamed political uncertainty over the future of work visas in the United States.
According to the article, one M.B.A. graduate originally from Pakistan sent out 1,000 applications before finally landing a position as a senior financial analyst.
With new federal leadership, it’s time to quit leaving all this talent on the table. Don’t wait, either. Start recruiting now while the competition remains low.
6. Hosting international talent benefits the overall economy
Educating international students contributes $41 billion annually to the U.S. economy.
In fact, education is our fourth largest export, after cars, planes, and pharmaceuticals.
The number of international students in the United States at any given time is about 1.1 million, with around 300,000 new students arriving here each year to begin their educations. Simply put, the United States is the Holy Grail of international higher education.
The benefits to the economy don’t end at graduation either.
Statistics show that larger numbers of OPT workers in the country correlate with a lower unemployment rate. Researchers think this correlation might be because those workers are driving the kind of innovation that creates jobs.
7. It ensures continuous talent flow.
Like a championship basketball program, successful economies recruit from all over the place.
But that process doesn’t start when talented international students graduate and start their job hunt. It starts with student enrollment. Right now, enrollment is down.
In the 2015/2016 academic year, 300,743 new international students enrolled for the first time at a U.S. institution. By the 2018/2019 academic year, that figure had declined by 10%.
The eventual result is an overall hiring pool that’s a little bit shallower.
Employers can do their part to help turn the tide and ensure we continue to attract the world’s best young workers. Actively recruiting and hiring international students goes a long way, but employers might also want to go a step further. Employers can reach out to colleges and universities in their region or that have degree programs in their areas of need to see how they can partner.
Setting up an internship program for international students or developing some other sort of college-to-workforce pipeline would prove mutually beneficial for the recruitment efforts of both university and employer.
Think about your own history. Whether you are the daughter of immigrants or the great-great-great-great grandson of immigrants, you owe a debt of gratitude to that person who overlooked an accent and maybe an unusual name and hired the first person in your family to set foot on American soil.
As an employer, you have the opportunity to pay that good fortune forward while also reaping these seven benefits to hiring international talent.
Take advantage of it.