International Studies & Programs

Getting Hired as an International Student is Hard! But Here's What You Can Do About It

Five Challenges & 10 Tips for Success

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Published: Wednesday, 13 Jan 2021 Author: Allison Fox

International students hold various types of visas while studyingyoung woman in front of building in the United States. The majority of international students at MSU hold an F or J visa. International Students with F/J visa status must apply for authorization from OISS and the U.S. government before conducting any off-campus practical training (like an internship or job). Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) are two of those practical authorizations that F students must consider before applying for an off-campus internship. There are many factors that make obtaining this work challenging. We’re breaking down some common challenges, and then giving you some creative ways to get through them and work toward your dream job or internship! 

Five Challenges


  1. You are limited by your field. 

    F and J visa holders who wish to gain an off-campus practical experience are only eligible to apply for experiences that are directly related to their field of study. This means less flexibility and only working in jobs that align with your major. An exception to this is working at MSU while a student – on-campus work does not need to be connected to your major. 
  2. The amount of time you can work is restricted. 

    CPT (internships) and OPT (post-graduation work) limit the number of hours or years you can work. This can be difficult for employers. They may want you to continue working fulltime after your OPT ends, but immigration law makes that challenging. 
  3. Some organizations are not allowed to hire foreign nationals. 

    U.S. organizations that have government contracts, or provide services to the government, are not allowed to hire foreign nationals.
  4. If you aim to work in the U.S. long-term, keep in mind that the immigration system is randomized, expensive, and does not have enough open spots for the large number of applicants. 

    The H-1B visa is the most common working visa for foreign nationals in the U.S. Each year there are 85,000 spots for around 200,000 applicants, determined randomly (with a small advantage for applicants with a Master’s Degree and higher). There are also considerable fees and paperwork involved with this process. Because of this, many U.S. employers may have policies against hiring employees that require this sponsorship.
  5. Internships are the key to full-time jobs, and many are not open to international students.

    When many U.S. organizations hire a student for an internship, they are really hiring them to “try out” for a full-time job, whether the student realizes it or not! But, due to the restrictions above, many companies will not consider international students for internships. This makes it harder for international students to obtain internships, and therefore compete with domestic students when it is time to apply for full-time U.S.-based opportunities.


10 Tips for Success 

These are a lot of challenges to overcome! Here are some steps to help you succeed: 

  1. Start early.

    As soon as you can, get connected with the Career Services Network and explore the resources on campus, join student organizations to enhance your resume, and attend career events where you can meet alumni and make connections. They earlier you start, the more you can do to develop the skills and experiences employers seek.
  2. Learn about available practical training authorizations. 

    Learn about CPT and OPT as soon as you can. CPT and OPT are complex authorizations and may take several weeks or months to receive required documents from employers, academic advisors and finally authorization from OISS and/or the U.S. government.  
  3. Study in-demand fields within STEM. 

    International students in the STEM field can remain in the U.S. working after graduation longer than their peers in other fields (3 years compared to 1 year). This makes STEM fields attractive because 1) employers in certain tech fields, like I.T., have difficulty finding enough qualified U.S. citizens to fill their roles, and 2) employers appreciate the employee can use those 3 years of OPT before entering the H1-B lottery.  
  4. Consider graduate school. 

    For full-time work, H-1B applicants with a Master’s Degree or higher have a better chance of being selected than those with a Bachelor’s Degree. 
  5. Be smart about which employers you target. 

    Employers will usually tell you whether they hire international students, or have a history of sponsoring foreign nationals through the H-1B system. To find them on Handshake, filter for “Accepts OPT/CPT.” Outside of Handshake, you can see the companies where our international Spartan alums work, or use GoinGlobal to search through their H-1B database, to see all of the U.S. organizations that have hired foreign nationals. 
  6. interviewUse your networks -- as a Spartan, yours is huge! 

    Connect with international graduates through MSU Connect, which has a dedicated International Student and Alumni networking group. You can also connect with 300,000+ Spartan alums on LinkedIn. Both are great places to begin conversations and make connections
  7. Keep your expectations realistic, and make multiple plans. 

    While working in the U.S. may be your preference, we recommend you also make plans to work in your home country. You can see the top companies where international students work in their home country, along with other home country internship and job resources.  
  8. Consider global companies. 

    Many large organizations have locations all over the world – perhaps both the U.S. and your home country. Working at such an organization in your home country may allow you to work for them in other countries later on. 
  9. Consider certain nonprofits

    Some nonprofit organizations, such as institutions of higher education or other nonprofit and governmental research organizations, may be exempt from the H-1B cap. Given this, they may hire more H-1B employees or hire outside of the lottery timeline. 
  10. Be able to explain CPT and OPT to employers. 

    Some employers, especially small- and mid-sized companies, many not be familiar with CPT and OPT. Make sure you understand the programs, and can explain their benefits to employers, including that it is free to employers and does not require additional paperwork on their behalf. For more on how to have this conversation and strategize your search, connect with OISS and Career Services