As of March 2022, there were 5.6 million more jobs than there were available workers in the US. The unemployment rate is barely registering, hovering near record lows at roughly 3 percent.
The Great Resignation that happened during the Coronavirus pandemic has created a historically tight labor market, with no end in sight. The shortage of workers has affected every industry and almost every business, resulting in delays for everything from hamburgers to high-end automobiles.
Yet, still, many American companies remain reluctant to hire international students and recent international graduates of American universities and colleges. The decision to overlook this sizable and talented pool of prospective employees is often based on bad information.
Unfortunately, many hiring managers misunderstand the American immigration system, resulting in lost opportunities for both the companies and foreign nationals.
Let’s take a closer look at seven of the most pervasive myths and why they are wrong.
Myth 1: I need to sponsor their visa
For international students and recent international graduates, this simply isn’t true. That’s because these two groups are eligible to work in the US after graduation for up to three years on their F-1 student visas through a program called Optional Practical Training (OPT).
The standard OPT is a 12-month work authorization program that permits international students in all career fields to gain professional experience without having to apply for an H-1B visa. In general, you must work in a job that is directly related to your area of study.
A two-year extension of standard OPT is available to those who have earned science, technology, engineering or manufacturing (STEM) degrees. This includes a wide range of degrees, in psychology, economics, business, and more, and are not colloquially considered STEM but are nevertheless STEM-designated by the Department of Homeland Security.
Each year, about 200,000 workers who came to the US as international students gain valuable experience through the OPT program, with about a quarter of those working under the STEM extension program.
In 2022, President Biden expanded the STEM extension program to include 22 new degree programs. So there is a good chance that your company may be eligible to hire under the STEM extension.
Myth 2: It’s expensive
Myth 2 is an extension of the sponsorship myth. Many employers think they must sponsor young international workers, which does require an investment on the part of the employer.
But, again, sponsorship is not required for international students who are still in school or who have recently graduated. For those who are eligible to work through the OPT program, there is no additional cost to the employer when compared to hiring domestic employees.
Myth 3: It’s time-consuming
Again, the reason this myth is wrong is because of the invaluable OPT program. Because the program allows people to work under their student visa for a period of time, no additional work is required.
All you must do is provide an offer letter, just as you would for a domestic job applicant. By educating yourself on the process of hiring international students, you can actually save yourself and international candidates time.
Myth 4: I have to prove they are not taking jobs from Americans
No. First of all, with the job market the way it is right now, nobody is “taking” jobs from anybody. After all, there are about two jobs out there for every one person looking for a job.
Nonetheless, even in a more normal job market, this is not true. Again, this myth is a misunderstanding of the OPT program, which has no such requirement. Employers must provide such documentation only when hiring and sponsoring foreign citizens for permanent resident status.
Myth 5: I need a lawyer
Again, OPT is easy to navigate and does not require any additional work compared to hiring domestic workers. Therefore, you do not need a lawyer.
Myth 6: They will leave
This myth poses a legitimate question: What happens after a student’s OPT work authorization runs out. Unfortunately, the myth comes up with the wrong answer.
Most employees who came to the US as international students will not leave. Instead, they’ll apply for a new visa status through the H-1B program, which authorizes work for another 6 years. Admittedly, H-1B is a bit trickier for the company. This is when the employer must apply on behalf of the employee, with related costs ranging from $5,000 to $7,000, primarily in legal fees.
Still, that’s a small price to pay to keep an employee that is already trained and now has experience under his or her belt, especially when a labor market is as tight as it is. According to recent research, the average cost to onboard a new employee is about $4,000.
Even if H-1B doesn’t successfully go through or you choose a pathway other than H-1B, there are many other alternatives for you to retain your international talent.
Myth 7: They won’t fit in
International graduates bring the best of both worlds. They had robust experience in the US academically through their degrees, socially through their lived experience, and professionally through various on-campus and off-campus internships. They also bring diverse perspectives from different cultural backgrounds – and for graduate students, often international work experience – that will add to your team. If anything, international graduates have tremendous adaptability. They understand how to adapt to new countries, cultures, and work environments. Recent research has discovered that 45 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the US were founded by immigrants or by their children.
Whether they fit in is up to you more than it is up to them.
It is also up to you to take advantage of international graduates as a valuable and diverse pool of skilled talent.