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  • Advisory Opinion: Working With International Students

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

    TAGS: international students, ethics, principles, advisory opinion

    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.

    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. Students who perceive barriers along another axis of identity, such as gender, sexuality, religion, or race or ethnicity may have additional concerns.

    Ethical Issues

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

    Principle 1 states: 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. (As such, career centers should be prepared to offer equal access to their services and resources to both domestic and international students.)

    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.

    Communication Is Key

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

    Enrollment: Understand what admissions representatives are communicating with prospective students, and provide admissions staff with information regarding career outcomes and recruiting opportunities for international students. Admissions staff need to be cognizant of the social-political climate in the United States, especially when it comes to discussing such matters with international students who are new to the United States. Recognizing that the admissions office and career center may have aligned and divergent goals, it is a good idea for leadership of both offices to meet and work through these issues with broader university interests in mind.

    International Students Office: Maintain an ongoing conversation 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 back 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.

    Employers: When an employer seeks to post a job or internship for your students, the career center can clarify whether the employer is willing to accept 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 hire students on OPT, as students are eligible to work full time as long as their employment relates to their degree of study. Lastly, employers must screen in a manner that is consistent with U.S. laws regarding equal employment opportunity.

    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.

    Other Considerations

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

    • 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.
    • 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 2020 Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee.

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