International Students Can Improve US Businesses – General Immigration

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Numerous companies can attest to the significant benefits they have received by hiring international students. Their backgrounds allow them to showcase unique talents and perspectives, often from different cultures. These students can use networks abroad, share knowledge about clients in overseas markets, and also explain how foreign agencies and foreign companies interact. In addition, international students typically adapt to and mature in new environments. They are often motivated to learn and accept challenges. International students are no strangers to stepping out of their comfort zone, having relocated to the US willingly. Balance, open-mindedness and a proactive attitude are common characteristics of international students as they have to deal with housing contracts, utilities, finance, language barriers and cultural challenges during their studies. Accordingly, they are also resilient and willing to learn. International students can also increase an organization’s productivity as they tend to demonstrate a strong work ethic as they strive to prove themselves through the application of the knowledge and skills they have acquired.

In addition to their valuable qualities, international students can fill the talent gap in the United States in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects. A Harvey Nash Group Digital Leadership Report for 2022, which surveyed around 3,000 executives from IT companies, found that 67% attested to a shortage of technical talent. Similarly, the US Department of Defense’s FY2020 Industrial Capabilities Report confirmed that the country needs to improve STEM education to meet market demands. As the report notes, “Today’s education pipeline does not provide the necessary software engineering resources to fully meet demand from the commercial and defense sectors and the resources needed to meet future growth needs.”

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A significant number of STEM companies are aware of how immigrants can help fill the talent gap. Data compiled by the American Community Survey (ACS) shows that immigrants made up about a quarter of US STEM workers in 2019. International students, a dynamic source of technical talent, are particularly focused on STEM subjects at American colleges and universities – particularly in Masters and Ph.D. programs. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, nearly half of international students specialize in STEM subjects. They also make up more than half of the graduate students studying major STEM subjects in the US. In addition, over 70% of all graduate students in manufacturing engineering, electrical engineering and computer and information sciences are international students. These areas are of great importance to automotive companies looking to innovate in their industry.

As our country faces a talent shortage, numerous universities and colleges are filled with international students who are actively seeking opportunities to remain in the United States and contribute to the economy. They can make these important contributions by obtaining a US work permit. There are two main types of work permits for international students: Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). The main difference between the two types of work permits is their respective eligibility periods and the type of work permitted in each program. CPT enables students actively enrolled in a graduate program to pursue off-campus training at a US location. The training must be closely and integrally related to the course of study. While the CPT application process involves collaboration between the student and the school’s Designated School Official (DSO), the prospective US employer may be required to provide an employment letter explaining the job offer.

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In contrast to the CPT, the optional internship can be completed either before or after completing the course. The OPT position must relate directly to the student’s program of study (although it is not considered part of the student’s academic curriculum). Unlike CPT, OPT does not require a specific sponsorship employer in the US. OPT allows part-time and full-time work, and post-completion OPT graduates are required to work at least twenty hours per week. Eligible students have a maximum of twelve months OPT. Instead of a student applying for a work permit with the school, an application must be submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

In addition, students who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher in a STEM field may be eligible for an additional two-year OPT work permit. Students must be in the first phase of the regular OPT after graduation to apply for the extension. They must work at least twenty hours per week in a position appropriate to their STEM degree. Because STEM OPT is employer specific (unlike OPT), a job offer is required, although employer sponsorship is not required. There are also more employer responsibilities with STEM OPT.

We encourage companies to contact an immigration law firm if they are interested in learning more about hiring international students. An immigration attorney can provide elaborations and individual guidance. This guide can also provide insight into how to retain an international student worker after the student graduates.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the topic. In relation to your specific circumstances, you should seek advice from a specialist.

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