Retention of International Students Postgraduation | Business Roundtable


  • General Inquiries
  • Mailing Address
    300 New Jersey Avenue, NW
    Suite 800
    Washington, D.C. 20001
  • Media Contact
    Rayna Farrell
    Director, Communications

Membership Contact
Marty Hall
Senior Vice President & Chief of Staff


What is Business Roundtable

Business Roundtable (BRT) is an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies working to promote sound public policy and a thriving U.S. economy.

Return to Report Home

The State of ImmigrationRetention of International Students Postgraduation

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 permit international students a period of time after graduation to find employment and make obtaining a work permit easier. 

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
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.

Score Breakdown by Country on Retention of International Students Postgraduation

Germany 4.5

German employers can convert an international student on an internship to an employment visa. A “job seeker” visa provides a six-month window to find employment postgraduation. EU students can stay after graduation and work without immigration processing.

View Germany Profile
Australia 4.5

Australia gives an advantage to international students who apply for temporary visas. A Temporary Graduate visa allows students to stay and seek employment in Australia. The lack of quotas on temporary visas provides opportunities for international students sought by employers.

View Australia Profile
Singapore 4.0

There are no special provisions, but international students typically can stay and work if they wish and their skills are sought.

View Singapore Profile
United Kingdom
United Kingdom 3.5

Employers can obtain work visas to hire international students without a Resident Labor Market Test. Also, international students from EU countries can work in the U.K. without immigration processing. International students are granted four months to find employment postgraduation, down from two years pre-2012. A controversial policy proposal to require international students to apply for work visas outside the country was shot down by Tory political leadership. 

View United Kingdom Profile
France 4.0

Students with the equivalent of a U.S. master’s degree can change status to lawful workers without other requirements. The job must pay 1.5 times the state minimum salary (about $30,000 a year).

View France Profile
Hong Kong
Hong Kong 4.5

After filing as “nonlocal graduates,” international students are given a year after graduation to seek employment. They can work for any employer without additional visa requirements.

View Hong Kong Profile
Switzerland 4.0

EU students can stay and work postgraduation without immigration processing. Non-EU students can stay for six months postgraduation to seek employment. Once employment is found, work permit approval for non-EU students is subject to quotas and labor market tests (the labor market test is exempted for work considered of high scientific or economic value).

View Switzerland Profile
Canada 4.0

Canada provides “open” work permits allowing international students to work postgraduation for up to three years. Many students can transition to permanent residence during this time period without leaving the country. The new Express Entry system could prevent some international students from gaining permanent residence.

View Canada Profile
United States
United States 3.0

Optional Practical Training provides an opportunity for international students to work short term postgraduation, particularly for those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. However, the lack of H-1B visas and long waits for employment-based green cards limit the opportunities for international students to make their careers in the United States.

View United States Profile
Japan 2.5

Students are allowed six months after graduation to find work, but there is a 10-year wait before permanent residence can be granted (a three-year wait for permanent residence if eligible to use the points-based system). Cultural issues and not allowing dual citizenship for naturalization limit attractiveness for long-term stays. 

View Japan Profile

About the Report

Business Roundtable selected the evaluated countries based on five criteria:

1. Worldwide university rankings;
2. Per-capita income;
3. Gross domestic product growth rate;
4. Net migration rate; and
5. Research and development investment.

After comparing each advanced economy relative to the five criteria, the top 10 countries (including the United States) were selected for the study: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (U.K.). Not coincidentally, these are the countries with which the United States competes most for foreign talent, particularly in science and technology fields.

Download Full Report