Know why companies hire international students (and why they don't)

H1B visa job search

The Top 250 list is based on historical data of companies that have applied for H1B for international candidates. It may change. There are no guarantees that they will sponsor international students as the H1B situation is making companies nervous (see relevant story here: H1B Reform is Making it Hell for Immigrants and Companies)

Understanding why you get rejected or why employers might not hire you is helpful for dealing with the situation. While it may feel personal, remember: the decision to sponsor or not sponsor international students is a business decision.

Top reasons why companies don’t offer H1B visas to international students

H1b visa jobs

Top reasons companies may not hire international students from GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey 2017

Since employers commit money and resources H1B visa candidates, they are nervous about hiring international students.

They fear you won’t stay – Many international students plan to stay a couple of years before they move on from the US. It’s a good plan to get global experience. But employers know this. They also know your family and friends are back home. They worry you won’t be committed.

They have enough American applicants – If lots of Americans are applying for positions, they don’t need to hire an international student. Employers hire international students when they don’t have enough Americans applying for the job.

They don’t know enough about the H1B visa process – I’ve spoken with recruiters who don’t know anything about hiring international students. Sometimes they have the wrong information about sponsorship. Therefore they’ll simply say they don’t sponsor to move on.

They don’t have the resources or want to spend extra money for international candidates – Big companies like Google and Amazon hire many international candidates. They have departments dedicated to supporting international candidates in the H1B visa lottery. Smaller companies and startups have less financial resources for the process.

H1b visa fees

A snapshot of H1B visa fees from

They worry you won’t be selected in the H1B lottery – Even if an employer sponsors you, there is no guarantee you will get the H1B visa because of the government lottery. Only 35% of employers who applied for the H1B received one in 2015. That means 2/3 of international students who were hired by American companies had to leave the country when their OPT was up. Since companies invest in you some companies can’t afford the loss if they don’t get the H1B visa.

So what should you do to get hired as an international student?

There is no one way to get hired as an international student in the US. It’s a combination of strategy and tactics. Also it’s mixed with timing and luck (and you can’t control the lottery system and the immigration debate in the US).

First, know how to overcome the reasons why employers don’t sponsor international students:

Employers think you won’t stay.

How to overcome this: If you’re engaging in small talk or at a networking event with employers, talk about how much you are enjoying American culture, your plans to stay, if you have family in the country, and how you’ve always dreamed of living in the US. If you’re in an interview, talk about your long-term plans to grow with the company and where you see yourself in 5 years at the company.

Employers have enough American applicants

How to overcome this: Apply to jobs that are more common for H1B visa sponsorship (see below). Target industries like technology and consulting which are more open to international talent.

Employers don’t have resources to hire you.

How to overcome this: Apply to larger companies that are more likely to have resources. The GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey 2017 reports that larger companies are more likely to hire international students than smaller ones:

“Large companies are more likely to hire or be willing to hire international candidates (34%) in 2017 versus 13 percent of small companies. Fortune Global 100 companies are the most likely to hire international candidates in 2017 (69%). Only seven percent of start-ups will hire international candidates in 2017; 57 percent are willing to but have no such plans this year.”

Employers don’t know about the sponsorship process.

How to overcome this: Learn as much as you can about CPT, OPT, and the H1B process so you can discuss the process with flexible employers. Note: not all recruiters have the time to listen to an in-depth discussion on work authorization for international students. This is a case-by-case situation. It is not applicable to all employers.

They worry you won’t be selected in the H1B lottery

How to overcome this: There isn’t much you can do about this one. Companies in the US are nervous about H1B visa uncertainties. Some students have convinced companies to hire them for one year on OPT (or three for OPT extension) then transfer to another company location outside the US, regardless of H1B success. This method leverages your international strengths and may work well for companies with a global workforce. Alternatively, you can target H1B cap-exempt employers. H1B visa cap-exempt employers are a category of organizations whose employees are not subject to the H1B visa lottery. They are nonprofits, universities, and some hospitals. There is no lottery risk for these organizations.

Target jobs that get the most H1B visa offers

Here are the top jobs that were sponsored last year:

  • Software Developers
  • Computer Systems Analysts and Programmers
  • Management Analysts
  • Accountants And Auditors
  • Network And Computer Systems Administrators
  • Mechanical Engineers
  • Financial Analysts
  • Database Administrators
  • Market Research Analysts And Marketing Specialists
  • Operations Research Analysts
  • Computer And Information Systems Managers
  • Electrical Engineers
  • Physicians And Surgeons, All Other
  • Medical Scientists
  • Web Developers

These are the top job titles submitted for H1B visas.

  • Programmer Analyst
  • Software Engineer
  • Software Developer
  • Systems Analyst
  • Computer Programmer
  • Business Analyst
  • Computer Systems Analyst
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Developer
  • Technology Lead/Analyst
  • Assistant Professor
  • Consultant
  • Project Manager
  • Senior Consultant
  • Database Administrator
  • Developer User Interface
  • Physical Therapist
  • Software Engineer 2
  • Lead Engineer
  • Analyst
  • Associate

Find your advantage

As an international student, you bring knowledge and language skills to any position. If a company is looking to expand operations in China you have local knowledge. That is a competitive advantage. Likewise, if you are from Latin America and a company is expanding marketing efforts to your region, you have the advantage in the job search. To find these opportunities conduct deep research. Deep research is understanding the company needs and services. Then identify your advantage.

Finally, make the business case for hiring you

H1B visa hiring

Translation: how will hiring you make the company/department/team better?

This is the most important part of your job search. Employers are making a business decision to hire you. Therefore you must persuade them why they should spend more money on you.

To make your business case, try this exercise. Each time you see a company you want to apply to write down the answers to these questions:

  • How will hiring you benefit the company?
  • What do you offer than nobody else can offer (especially an American candidate)?
  • What problem can you help the company solve?

Obviously, these are not easy questions to answer at the beginning of your search. It takes research, reflection, and persuasion skills. International students who get hired by US companies know these answers.