MBAs and Work Authorization for International Students

March 2, 2008

Quite often many of my friends tell me "I forgot you're not a US citizen". Admittedly when I get all wrapped up in the excitement of the US election and the race between my man Barack and Hillary, sometimes even I forget that I'm Canadian. But the fact is like many students from abroad, I'm here at Yale on an F1 Student Visa. Even though Canada is right next door, I'm not an American citizen and consequently, need to think about things like immigration and work authorization after I graduate from Yale SOM. Earlier this week I met with the Office for International Students to begin the paperwork authorizing "Optional Practical Training" (OPT for short). OPT is not permanent work authorization, but rather a 1-year period that is afforded to foreign (non-US citizens) graduate students to work in the US without acquiring a formal work-visa. As far as I understand, OPT is granted to most graduate students without a problem, so for the first year after an MBA at least, most foreign students don't really need to worry about being deported. What happens after the OPT expires is a little trickier though, and certainly a cause for concern for international students. The best option is to be on H1-B status, though not everyone has that opportunity. I've been talking with the HR department of CCS Fundraising (the nonprofit consulting firm I'll be joining after graduating from Yale SOM) and to my relief they've agreed to sponsor me for the H1-B lottery. The highly coveted H1-B visa allows individuals to work in the US for 3 years, extendible to 6 years. The number of H1-B visas granted yearly however is capped at 65,000. In addition, there is a great deal of paperwork that needs to be processed, as well as fees and lawyer services that must be deployed by the hiring firm to arrange an H1-B visa. Based on my experiences with the job hunt at Yale SOM, it seems to me that many employers are either unwilling or simply unable to sponsor for the H1-B. There are exceptions to this of course - investment banks, major management consulting firms, some tech companies (Microsoft in particular), and a few others seem to be more willing to arrange pursue H1-B visas for foreign students. But for those who tread on unconventional job paths, the H1-B is a little harder to come by. I never assumed that the MBA would be a means to guarantee work authorization in the US, but I definitely hoped it would be a little easier. I find it interesting that the immigration rules are so tight, and I truly believe that certain companies are denied talent and highly qualified applicants due to tight immigration laws. I'm no public policy expert but from a purely personal point of view, the H1-B cap doesn't make much sense to me. I think Bill Gates, a vocal critic of the H1-B cap due to the difficulty it imposes on hiring new employees put it best when he said - "I'd certainly get rid of the H1B cap." I couldn't agree with him more.

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Patrick Ma