If you are an international student studying in the U.S., you are generally allowed to work in the U.S. within the terms and conditions of your visa. Finding employment can sometimes be challenging since U.S. employment practices may be different from those followed in other countries, and some employers cannot or choose not to hire international students. However, many international students do secure employment in the U.S. The information below is a supplement to the Student Guide to Employment, which can be found at http://www.engineering.iastate.edu/ecs/students/the-employment-process/.

Rules and Regulations

VISA Regulations

It is very important that you understand and adhere to the terms of your visa. The ISU International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) is your best resource for visa-related information and you must have their approval before starting employment in the U.S. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforces federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration and is also a good source of information. Individuals with a record of extraordinary ability may want to evaluate employment-based immigration with an EB-1 or EB-2 visa.

Pay Requirements

In addition to many other aspects of employment, the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay individuals at least minimum wage for the services they perform. In other words, you cannot volunteer to do work for a company simply to gain experience. Additionally, engineering internships in the “for-profit” private sector will most often be viewed as employment, and therefore, must be paid. 

U.S. Employment Practices

Resume and Curriculum Vitae

In the U.S. a concise resume is used to apply for employment unless the position is with a research or educational institution where they may ask for a curriculum vitae (CV) instead. A resume highlights your skills and knowledge as it summarizes your education, employment, other skill-building activities and accomplishments. Personal information such as age, marital status, race, religion, visa status or a photo should never be included. See the educational materials on our website for more information on resume development.

A curriculum vitae is a detailed listing of your educational achievements, employment, publications, presentations, professional activities, and honors. The CV is longer than the resume; it is generally two pages or more. They are most often necessary only if you are seeking a teaching, research, clinical or scientific position.

It is not required for you to include information about your work authorization status on the resume or CV.  Be open and honest about your work authorization status but it is better to include this information as part of your cover letter or conversation with a recruiter after you have gotten the employer interested in your qualifications.    

After you have prepared a resume or CV, set up a career advising appointment to have ECS review it.

Self-Promotion during the Search for Employment

During the employment search process, individuals are expected to talk about their skills and accomplishments. Some students find this difficult because humility is highly valued in their culture. U.S. employers are strongly results-orientated, so it is important to get comfortable talking about accomplishments that demonstrate your successful application of skills. It is often helpful to start by sharing credit for an accomplishment with others but then you must focus on your individual contributions to the effort.  For example, you might say, “I was part of a very successful team effort.  I contributed by…”

Required and Preferred Qualifications

‘Required Qualifications’ (sometimes called ‘Minimum Qualifications’) on a job posting are the minimum amounts of education, experience, knowledge, skills, abilities, licensures, certifications and other job-related requirements that must be met for a candidate to be considered for a position. If you don’t meet the minimum qualifications, it’s likely not worth your time to apply for the position. If an employer were to hire you instead of someone who applied and met the minimum qualifications, they would risk a lawsuit.

‘Preferred Qualifications’ are qualifications that the employer will take into consideration when evaluating applicants, but not having them won’t automatically disqualify you from consideration. You should apply to positions even if you don’t meet all of the preferred qualifications.

Employer Policy on Hiring International Students

Some employers are happy to consider employing all well-qualified individuals, while others have policies of hiring only individuals who are authorized to work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. When an employer doesn’t want to consider employing international students, it is usually for one of the following reasons:

  • They have never hired an international student and think that the process will be costly and time consuming.
  • They are looking for a long-term employee and don’t want to risk hiring an employee that may not be selected to receive an H1-B visa.
  • They are a large company that receives many applicants who are well-qualified individuals and are authorized to work in the U.S. on a permanent basis without sponsorship.
  • They are using their internship program to evaluate individuals for post-graduation positions, and don’t want to risk selecting an intern who they won’t be able to hire full-time after graduation.

Best Practices for Securing Employment in the U.S.

Use GoinGlobal to Identify Employers Who have Hired International Students in the Past

GoinGlobal: Under the H1B Visas tab, you can view employers who have provided sponsorship to international students in the past.

Utilize CyHire to Search for Positions, See Upcoming Events, and More

CyHire can be used to locate employment opportunities, apply for positions, schedule on-campus interviews, learn about career-related events, and more.

Advocate for Your Employment

Since some employers may not understand employment laws associated with student visas, it is important that you are able to explain these terms and advocate for your employment. Do not begin a conversation or cover letter with a discussion about you being an international student. Instead, this discussion should come when the employer brings it up or you are offered a position. Your first goal is to convince the employer that you are the best candidate for the position. When the subject is raised, a few of the points you may want to mention to employers include:

  • Students who maintain F-1 or J-1 visa status can be employed as interns in a position related to their major. Engineering students on F-1 visas are eligible for up to 12 months of Curricular Practical Training before completing their degree, and an additional 36 months of Optional Practical Training following graduation if employed with a company that is a member of “E-Verify” (12 months otherwise). Students with a J-1 visa are usually eligible to work up to 18 months following graduation.
  • All that is needed from the employer is a written offer of employment. The student and ISU ISSO handles all of the paperwork.
  • There are no additional fees to hire an international student for internship/co-op or post-graduation positions when the students uses CPT/OPT.
  • Generally, F-1 and J-1 students are exempt from Social Security and Medicare contributions, which saves an organization money.
  • You are authorized to work for them for a significant period of time without the need for them to do anything except provide a written offer of employment.
  • You have skills that will contribute to the success of the organization.

If any circumstance in your life is likely to lead to a change in your immigration status, such as marriage to a U.S. citizen, you will want to mention this to potential employers.

Network and Develop Professional Relationships

Networking is one of the most effective techniques for securing employment. Developing relationships takes time, so start attending career fairs, information sessions and other networking events early in your college career. When you establish a positive professional relationship with a recruiter, they will be more willing to recommend you for employment. If you have a good connection with a hiring manager, they might decide to add you to their team. 

Remember to also utilize the tips and best practices provided in The Student Guide to Employment in addition to the information above.

Additional Resources