If you meet an average foreign graduate student in a developed country, and you assume that he or she is smart, independent, and highly motivated, you’re probably right. It takes a lot to get a foreign graduate degree, and although it may not seem like it, employers are highly attracted to foreign nationals because of their smarts, work ethic and drive.
This begs the question: if employers love us so much, why is getting a job one of the most difficult things a foreigner we may do in his or her life? One word: immigration. The work authorization process for a foreign national requires both the employer and the employee to jump through a series of government hoops (the best kind). If I get around to it, I will do a separate post that explains the process in some detail. For now, let me just say that it is time-consuming, expensive and painful.
One negative outcome of the warped work authorization process is that some employers have decided to avoid it completely by refusing to hire foreign nationals. Fortunately, a large number of employers make their decision to hire foreign nationals on a “case-by-case basis”. This means that they will hire as long as the perceived benefits of hiring the candidate is great enough to justify the work authorization processing costs.
If you are a foreign graduate student, you already know everything I’ve said up until this point. What may not be as obvious is the fact that some students use the information I have presented above to arrive at a dangerous conclusion that goes something like this: “Some employers do not have the slightest interest in hiring me because of my immigration status. Therefore, I will devise an efficient way to find the ones that do.” Sound reasoning right? What could be wrong with adding some efficiency to the job search process? Well, the reasoning is sound yes, but the implementation is usually not. How this idea gets implemented by some students is that they walk up to a recruiter, say hi, and then ask “Do you hire international students?”. Whatever you do, DON’T be one of these people! Here’s why:
1. It’s Counter-Productive : Recruiting is a lot like dating, and though I’m no expert, questions like “How much do you earn?” are perceived as rude and counter-productive on a first date. In the same vein, asking about work authorization at the beginning of your conversation with a potential employer makes them wonder if you are interested in their company or you just want any job. It won’t get you far in the recruitment process.
2. Companies Change Their Minds: Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of companies that came to my university’s campus about two years ago, and clearly stated that they had no interest in hiring foreign nationals without US citizenship or permanent residency status. Fast-forward to today and these same companies are back on campus and willing to hire foreign nationals. My point? Hiring requirements and policies change. Continue to strongly communicate your value proposition to jobs and recruiters that interest you.
That said, If you must ask recruiters about their hiring policies, do so later in the conversation, after you’ve built a connection with the recruiter, and talked a little bit about what you can contribute. By this time, even if the company doesn’t usually hire foreign nationals, they just might be willing to make an exception in your case.