When To Reveal Your Work Status
International Students - When to Tell an Employer About Your Work Status
By Adrienne Nussbaum, Director, Intercultural Office, Boston College
One of the most frequent and difficult questions that I am asked in my position as Assistant Dean for International Student Services at Boston College is "When and how should I tell a perspective employer that I am an international student???" There is certainly no easy or correct answer to this question. For example, I recently heard a representative from the Human Resources Department of a multinational company state that she actually likes to see this information listed on the person’s resume so that she knows right from the start. I have to admit that I found this response quite surprising as it is not what I usually recommend to students! However, it just demonstrates that there are many approaches to how to handle this situation.
I’d like to take a few moments to share some of the advice that I tell my students on this subject. Let’s start with the "when". I personally feel that it is not necessary to specifically list your nationality on your resume. An astute employer may in fact deduce that you are a foreign national based on where you received your education or the location of past work experiences, but you do not necessarily want to draw attention to this fact at this early stage of the process. Your goal, of course, is to get past the initial screening and to get an interview. Some employers have a policy of not hiring foreign nationals and strictly adhere to it, but many start with that attitude but may be convinced otherwise when given the chance. You need to give them that chance.
On the other hand, you also do not want to wait until your third or fourth interview to bring it up. I personally know of a student who lost a job offer because he waited too long. American employers value honesty and directness, and if they feel you have been hiding something from them, they won’t trust you. They also might then come to think that your immigration status is a bigger "problem" than it actually is and therefore not want to bother. I usually recommend that students address the issue either in their first or second interview, once they have had the opportunity to "sell themselves" and feel that the employer is potentially interested in hiring them.
As for the "how" to bring it up, this is absolutely critical to your success at securing a position. As I mentioned above, there are employers who absolutely won’t hire foreign nationals, there are employers who do it routinely, but the majority fall somewhere in the middle. They simply do not know what is involved in the process and it is your responsibility to appropriately educate them. It is therefore crucial that you have complete and accurate knowlege of your options and can communicate them to an employer in a clear and confident manner. If you simply say "I don’t really know what has to be done", most employers are not going to take the time to find out.
Most international students on F-1 student visas are eligible for 12 months of "practical training" upon completion of studies without any job offer or letter from an employer. And so you can start by explaining to your potential employer that you have a one year employment authorization which requires absolutely no work on their part. As for discussing the H-1, I do not want to turn this into an immigration lecture, but what I can tell you is that there are many myths and misunderstandings out there on the part of employers about the H-1 visa. They often confuse it with the process of applying for permanent residency and getting a green card. Once again it is your responsibility to dispell those myths. I often tell students to avoid using the word "sponsor" when talking about an H-1 because it is often affiliated with green cards. Instead, use the phrase "petition" for an H-1. You should also explain that it is NOT required to show that there are no U.S. citizens available who can do the position, but simply that you meet the minimum qualifications. This small fact will often open the door to further discussion.
As for the costs involved in obtaining an H-1, if the company does not have someone on staff who is familiar with the process, it is strongly advised that an immigration attorney be hired. Not because it is required, but because they process these application routinely and know exactly what the Immigration Service is looking for. A minor mistake can cause delays of weeks or even months in the process during which you will be losing valuable salary. The price usually runs (in the Boston area) from $1,800 to $2,000. You can often negotiate who will pay the fee with your employer. If necessary, offer to pay it yourself. It is an investment in your future, and you will make up the money in no time. The process usually takes about 6-8 weeks so be sure to leave plenty of time on your practical training so you do not fall out of status or have a gap in your employment eligibility.
Lastly, don’t forget that you should not try to hide the fact that you are an international student, but rather you should be proud of it. It is an asset, not a burden! International students bring with them many skills and experiences that set them apart from American students. They often know more than one language, have been exposed to other cultures and systems, are mature, flexible, adaptable, and deal well with change and ambiguity, just by virtue of having come to the U.S. to study. These are all qualities that are sought after by employers. Hilite your special and unique background! It will make you stand out from the crowd.
Please remember that all of this is simply one person’s advice from having worked with international students for the past 16 years. Ask another advisor, and you will probably get a different opinion! If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend that you visit the international student office at your university and learn as much as you can about practical training and H-1s. Good luck!