Organizational Structure

Advisory Opinion: Working With International Students

Organizational Structure
A group of international students walk on their college campus.

TAGS: advisory opinion, ethics, international students, principles,

By the Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee

Many career centers are seeing an increasing number of international students who are limited by work authorization restrictions with regard to employers and job and internship opportunities within the United States. Staff often have concerns about meeting the expectations of international students; providing equitable, quality services; and when and how to partner with other campus stakeholders. A few best practices that have emerged are 1) informing admissions staff of the difficulties international students face when navigating the U.S. job market, 2) educating employers on what is required to sponsor students for work visas, 3) regularly bringing in legal counsel to stay abreast of applicable laws, 4) providing students with a list of employers that have a record of hiring students who need sponsorship to stay in the United States, and 5) sharing resources so students can search for the opportunities that best fit their needs.

This advisory opinion focuses on international students’ job search in the United States. Career center staff should note that there may be other cultural considerations when an international student is pursuing a job search outside of the United States (whether home country or other countries).

Who Are International Students?

“International students” is a term that is commonly applied to a broad array of students whose legal status can be quite diverse. This advisory opinion considers specifically those who are on student visas, e.g., F-1 visa, that allow them to work in the United States for a specified period of time during their course of study and/or after graduation, but who may require separate authorization, e.g., sponsorship by an employer, to stay and work in the United States beyond that point.

It is important to acknowledge that not all international students wish to stay in the United States after they complete their courses of study. However, some of these students may wish to gain work experience, such as experience gained through internships or on-campus employment, while in the United States. We must also recognize that some students choose to study in the United States due to an explicit desire to work here, either for the time allotted by their student visa or as a stepping stone to longer-term employment. One result of these varying goals is that a career center may be asked to help international students find experiential learning opportunities or employment in the United States or to help with students with their job search in their home or third countries.

Unique Challenges Facing International Students

International students face unique challenges when starting their careers:

  • If they wish to return to their home country, they must conduct a long-distance search or delay it until they return home during breaks.
  • If they wish to stay in the United States, they will find that the regulations surrounding their ability to work can be complex and subject to change.
  • Few employers recruiting on U.S. college campuses actively seek out international students and may not be transparent about their willingness to hire students who require sponsorship.
  • Cultural differences can make the etiquette surrounding the U.S. job search confusing or uncomfortable. For example, speaking about one’s accomplishments and networking with industry professionals may be practices that are deeply dissonant with a student's cultural norms.

Ethical Issues

Several NACE Principles are relevant when considering school-specific policies and practices for working with international students:

Principle 1 states: P Practice reasonable, responsible, and transparent behavior by clearly articulating and widely disseminating your organization's policies and guidelines, and ensure equitable services for all constituencies.

Principle 2 states: Act without bias when advising, servicing, interviewing, or making employment decisions.

Principle 3 states: Ensure equitable access in the provision of services and opportunities without discriminating on the basis of race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, or age.

Principle 4 states: Comply with laws associated with local, state, and federal entities, including but not limited to EEO compliance, immigration, and affirmative action.

As such, career centers should be prepared to offer equal access to their services and resources to both domestic and international students.

Communication Is Key

It is important for a career center  to communicate effectively with all constituents.

International Students Office: Prioritize a strong relationship with those colleagues tasked with tracking and advising the international student population. They will receive advisories of changes in the regulations of which the career center should be aware. Thus, career center staff should refer international students to this office for official guidance on work authorizations and visas. Additionally, it would be ideal for a career center to have a dedicated adviser to specifically work with international students during their job-search experience and serve as a bridge to the international students office.

Enrollment: Encourage partnership between admissions/enrollment and the international students office (see above). Understand what admissions representatives are communicating with prospective students, and provide admissions staff with information regarding career outcomes and the realities of what international students can do based on their student visas,  i.e., OPT/CPT, visa sponsorship, and so forth. Recognizing that the admissions office and career center may have aligned and divergent goals, both offices should meet and work through these issues with broader university interests in mind.

Employers: When an employer seeks to post a job or internship, the career center can clarify whether the employer accepts applications from students who will need sponsorship in the future. If the employer contact is uncertain, ask the contact to confirm the organization’s policy before proceeding. During this time, career center staff can also encourage employers to recruit students through their CPT or OPT. Lastly, employers must screen in a manner that is consistent with state, local and federal anti-discrimination laws and all immigration requirements.   

Students: While career center staff should understand the restrictions on international students as it affects their advising, they should always make it clear to students that the campus international students office will have the most up-to-date information on visa and work authorization regulations. Career advisers should also acknowledge that the job-search norms in the United States are often markedly different from those in other countries and that students must be prepared for a potentially steep learning curve. Students should also be coached on the real barriers to employment in the United States based on their work authorization status to manage expectations. That said, advisers should be prepared to talk about success stories as well, particularly those that portray effective strategies for success, such as starting to network early, getting professional help on resumes and cover letters, attaining internship experience during school, and focusing on organizations with a global footprint. Advisers can also help students identify their competitive advantages, such as excellence in a substantive field, native fluency in a valued language, and intercultural competency in a global market. It is recommended, however, that individuals with questions seek the advice of an immigration attorney.

Other Considerations

There are some best practices to consider when working with international students:

  • Career center staff should have a basic knowledge of student visa work options, such as student employment, OPT/CPT, and other opportunities.
  • Some schools routinely have immigration attorneys come to their campuses to speak with students and staff to stay up-to-date on hiring regulations, often co-sponsoring such an event with the international students office.
  • There are also websites and subscription services to which career advisers can refer students to see which organizations have a track record of sponsoring work visas, while other third-party vendors may give guidance on looking for positions abroad, including in the student’s home country.
  • Students can be encouraged to disclose work authorization status to career center staff and advisers to receive the most personalized assistance in obtaining employment.
  • Connecting with alumni in other parts of the world and hosting on-campus or virtual alumni panels are also ways of helping international students make connections in their home countries and other locations outside the United States.
  • Programming targeted to the unique needs of international students can be an effective way of demonstrating that they are not alone and allows students to provide support for one another.
  • Finally, career center staff will benefit from professional development to recognize the unique challenges such students may face when adapting to job-search norms in the United States.

International students are acutely aware of the unique challenges they face during their job search, therefore, it would go a long way to know that their career center understands and empathizes with their situation. 

Reviewed and updated by the 2022 Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee.

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