The United States is behind other countries in permitting international students to find jobs after graduation and put their talents to work in the country that educated them. Policymakers in many nations believe that after educating international students, giving them the opportunity to remain and build careers makes sense. Governments in many advanced economies allow international students a period of time after graduation to find employment and make obtaining a work permit easier.
Unfortunately, low quotas on H-1B temporary visas and the long waits for employment-based green cards can prevent international students from remaining in the United States after graduation. If an international student is unable to secure an H-1B visa, then the only option to remain in the United States is Optional Practical Training (OPT). However, given the low quota on H-1B visas, even if a student obtains OPT status he or she will still be uncertain if the only practical way to work long term in the United States — obtaining an H-1B visa — is feasible.
Under OPT, an international student can work for 12 months for an employer before or after graduation. In addition, “F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, are employed by employers enrolled in E-Verify [the federal employment eligibility verification system], and who have received an initial grant of post-completion OPT related to such a degree, may apply for a 17-month extension,” according to USCIS. “This extension of the OPT period for STEM degree holders gives U.S. employers two chances to recruit these highly desirable graduates through the H-1B process, as the extension is long enough to allow for H-1B petitions to be filed in two successive fiscal years.”96 Still, even the extended time for OPT does not guarantee success in obtaining an H-1B visa. The Obama Administration announced proposed changes to OPT, but the scope and practical impact of any new policies remain unclear.
In the meantime, other countries maintain policies aimed at encouraging international students to stay and work after graduation. “Canada really facilitates employment for international students,” explained attorney Peter Rekai. “Canadian immigration policies have benefitted the country’s colleges.”97 An international student can obtain a temporary work permit while studying and then obtain an “open” work permit for up to three years after graduation from a postsecondary academic program. During this period, many students are able to find skilled work in Canada and become eligible to transition to permanent residence without leaving the country. Canada does not impose per-country limits, as the United States does. That means international students from India or China can envision a shorter path to permanent residence than the potential decade-long (or longer) wait in the United States.
International students will continue to have a very good chance to transition to permanent residence in Canada. However, permanent residence will not be assured anymore because under Express Entry, students will need a job offer subject to a labor market test to maximize points. Offering that job will be challenging for their employers under the new rules for temporary visas because the international students likely would be entry level and the salary requirements would be higher. However, age, education and language skills should ensure many international students achieve sufficient points to gain permanent residence under the new Express Entry system, according to Rekai.103
Australia provides its international students with an advantage in applying for a temporary work visa. One can obtain a Temporary Graduate visa, which allows students and their families to stay temporarily in Australia and seek employment.
Germany, France, the U.K. and Switzerland
Similarly, being an international student at a German university helps individuals qualify for temporary visas to work in the country. An individual can start an internship with a German company and convert that to an employment visa. In addition, a “job seeker” visa gives a recent graduate six months to find employment after graduating.104 “This visa is aimed at highly qualified candidates, i.e. non-EU nationals holding a German or otherwise recognized equivalent university degree. The visa enables the holder to remain in Germany for a period of six months in order to find appropriate employment,” according to the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany (London).”105
Students from EU countries can stay and work in Germany without additional immigration processing due to EU rules on the freedom of movement for EU citizens. This is also the case for EU nationals graduating from universities in France, the U.K. and Switzerland.
International students who earn a postgraduate degree in France, the equivalent of a master’s degree or higher in the United States, can change their status to lawful workers in the country without labor market testing or other requirements. The student’s job must pay 1.5 times the minimum salary, which would be approximately 2,000 euros a month (about $30,000 a year).106
In the U.K., employers can hire students with a British university degree under Tier 2 temporary visas (the primary work visa for high-skilled workers) without conducting a Resident Labor Market test. That provides international students in the U.K. an advantage over other foreign nationals. International students are allowed four months to seek long-term employment, although the time frame was 24 months prior to a change in 2012. In December 2014, British Home Secretary Theresa May announced a new government policy that would have required international students from outside the EU to leave the country to apply for work visas. Business, scientific and university leaders criticized the proposal, and the negative reaction appears to have shelved it.107 The Financial Times reported a Conservative government official as stating: “We have a policy that international students can stay when they graduate if they find a graduate-level job paying £24,000 a year. That remains the policy.”108
In Switzerland, a non-EU international student can stay for six months after graduation to search for work. During that time he or she can apply for a longer-term status once employment is found. A work permit is needed to change status from student to employee, and it would be granted from an annual quota for work permits for non-EU nationals. Labor market testing is required, except if the position is of high scientific or economic value. As noted earlier, an EU international student can stay and work after graduation without needing to apply through the immigration process. A simple notification of the new status to authorities suffices in such cases, according to Nina Perch.109
Singapore does not provide special rules for international students to stay after graduation in Singapore. But according to Mark Chowdhry, in practice, “an international student pretty much can stay and work if he or she wants to do so.”110
Hong Kong makes it relatively easy for an international student to remain in Hong Kong to seek employment. This coincides with the government’s policy initiative to make Hong Kong a “regional education hub.” A student can file for Immigration Arrangement for Non-Local Graduates status and is allowed a year to find a job. He or she can work for any employer in Hong Kong without the need for an additional visa from immigration authorities. The status is subject to renewal after a year and should be approved if the graduate has a Hong Kong employer and continues to be employed in Hong Kong.
Japan allows international students six months after graduation to seek work with the option to extend that period for an additional six months. Since there is no quota on professional work visas (technically called Specialist in Humanities and International Services visas), international students often can stay and work after graduation if they desire. However, along with cultural issues, the 10-year wait before applying for permanent residence likely dissuades at least some international students from seeking to make Japan a permanent home.
96. “Questions and Answers: Extension of Optional Practical Training Program for Qualified Students,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
97. Interview with Peter Rekai.
103. Interview with Peter Rekai.
104. Interview with Stefan Lenz.
105. Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany (London). “To obtain a jobseeker’s visa applicants must provide proof of their university degree and proof of financial means for the intended duration of stay. While seeking employment jobseekers are not permitted to work, neither employed nor self-employed.”
106. There was controversy during the Sarkozy Administration amid allegations international students were being denied work permits they were entitled to under the law.
107. Lamiat Sabin (December 21, 2014), “Theresa May to ‘Kick Out Foreign Graduates’ in New Immigration Plans,” The Independent; Alan Travis (January 5, 2015), “Theresa May Defends Student Immigration Policy,” The Guardian.
108. Rosa Prince (January 7, 2015), “George Osbourne Sees Off Theresa May’s Controversial Plan to Deport Foreign Graduates,” The Telegraph.
109. Interview with Nina Perch.
110. Interview with Mark Chowdhry.