As an international student coming out of college with a STEM degree, the first thing you should do is pause for a minute and give yourself a pat on the back. You came to a new country, put in countless hours of studying and hard work -- probably even a few all-nighters -- and obtained a B.Sc. (or higher!). It was no easy task. And it’s something you should be incredibly proud of. Well freakin’ done.
As you look to the future of your professional career as an engineer, scientist, programmer, etc., you should feel confident in your abilities to land a job, not just at a company that will sponsor your H-1B visa, but also one with a job that excites you. Don’t settle.
“A lot of international students spend all their time looking for a company that will sponsor them,” says Sara Itucas, Legalpad’s co-founder and COO. “But the truth is you should spend an equal amount of time looking for the jobs and companies you want to be at. While you obviously should know up front that you’ll be sponsored, don’t settle for the first thing you see on a job board. Apply to the job that excites you, because that’s where you’ll do great work. And when you do great work, the visa will follow.”
As you tighten up your resume -- no typos, people -- and start your online applications, at some point the responses will start flowing in. And that means you’re through to the next and most important step in any job search: the interview.
The Top Dogs: Joining A Major Tech Company
If you’re interested in a large tech company like Amazon, Google, Facebook, or any of the other major players in tech, place your time and energy on nailing that interview and focus less on your H-1B. Maybe you’ve heard about some of the infamous questions these companies ask, like “How many ping pong balls can fit in a Boeing 747?” and you might even be a little intimidated about how you would possibly prepare for them. The good news is: you don’t have to. Major tech companies have abandoned these sorts of questions, and have turned to more classic interview styles. They want to know how well you know the subject matter, not how well you can answer some Jeopardy question.
Once you’re hired, the next step is the most important: work your butt off and show what a valuable team member you are. Sure, this is true for any job, but it’s particularly important amongst big tech companies, which operate under a “hire fast, fire fast” mantra. This doesn’t mean you should be scared. You were hired for a reason. But this is also your chance to make your mark, so get after it!
Remember, you’re authorized to work for a full year under your EAD. Don’t spend too much time worrying about your H-1B in your first few months. To companies like Google and Facebook, the H-1B is an afterthought compared to your job performance. Google submitted 10,000 H-1B petitions in 2019. Amazon submitted over 7,500. Microsoft, IBM, and Facebook weren’t that far behind. Trust the data. These companies are willing to sponsor you if you’re worth it, and you are!
The Road Less Traveled: Joining A Startup
Okay, maybe "less traveled" is a stretch, but not everyone wants to work for a big tech company. There are advantages like the company perks, whether it’s a great compensation plan, the events and clubs, and professional chefs.
But maybe you have different aspirations and are considering joining a startup. There are advantages there, too. A startup gives you the opportunity to learn a lot quickly and you’re brought in on more high-level decisions. In a lot of startups, you’ll even have the opportunity to work with the company’s co-founders, and learn a lot about all the areas of a business. In many cases, you’ll be given a small amount of equity or stock options in the company as part of your compensation package.
When it comes to your H-1B, though, know that joining a startup means you’ll be more involved in your visa process. Most startups don’t have an immigration policy in place. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for some, it might not be something you want to take on. And that’s okay, too.
If you are seeking the startup route, you’ll want to make sure you’re clear about your intentions with sponsorship. That doesn’t mean bringing it up in the interview. But once you land an offer, you should have a clear discussion with the hiring manager about your H-1B. Let me repeat that: you should have a clear discussion with the hiring manager about your H-1B.
It might feel uncomfortable, but remember that you’ve likely already answered a question on your application about requiring sponsorship in the future, so there won't be any surprises. Make it known that you’re passionate about the company and position, but that your sponsorship is also a top priority.
Inform the hiring manager that you have your work authorization through your EAD and I-175. The company is responsible for handling your I-9 so that you’re authorized to work for your first year. If the hiring manager or HR contact at the company seem unsure about these things, it may be a red flag.
Most tech startups are willing to work with you, and if they’re not, you don’t want to be there anyway. Good startups are well aware that larger tech companies offer H-1Bs because it’s a way to attract the absolute best talent. It’s sometimes easier said than done, but get a feel for the company and its trajectory. Have they sponsored other employees’ visas? Have they secured funding for the next year or two? Do you get a good feeling about your future with them? These are questions you can and should ask.
“Having a clear conversation about your sponsorship is not going to hurt you,” says Sara Itucas. “In fact, it’s the opposite. It shows confidence and sends the message that you’re serious about your future at the company. Startups love to see that.”
Pencil It In: Staying Up To Date On Your H-1B
No matter what company you’re joining, the most important thing is to keep informed on the important dates for your H-1B petition.
Employers seeking to file H-1B petitions for the fiscal year 2021 cap, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, must first electronically register and pay the associated $10 H-1B registration fee. While this is your employer’s responsibility, you should make sure to be in contact with the rep at your company responsible for filing.
Like The Back Of Your Hand: What Every H-1B Applicant Should Know
Your company may be applying for your H-1B on your behalf, but you should never be checked out of the process. Here are a few things you should know like the back of your hand.
Can an employer ask me what visa I’m on?
No. Your employer or potential employer is not allowed to ask about your visa status.
Can an employer ask if I’ll need visa sponsorship?
Yes. In fact, you probably remember answering this question dozens of times as you filled out online applications. If your employer asks about your need for sponsorship, a simple “yes” is accurate, but there’s nothing wrong with expanding on your answer about sponsorship -- especially when you have an opportunity to educate them on their options.
Our team has learned that when a company says that they “don’t sponsor work visas,” it’s usually because they don’t know enough about the process!
Does my company have employees dedicated to handling my H-1B?
Some companies do, and some don’t. Larger companies may have an internal legal team, while smaller ones could be outsourcing the work to a law firm or company like Legalpad. Regardless of your situation, you should know the basic info on the H-1B. What is the Labor Condition Application ? How long will my H-1B last? How does the H-1B lottery work?
My employment letter says my employment is “contingent on work authorization”. What does this mean?
Your employer can rescind an offer if you don’t have work authorization. They’re It’s imperative that your EAD and I-175 are submitted and up to date to prevent this from happening.
Will I be responsible for paying any of the fees for my H-1B?
By law, certain fees associated with an H-1B petition -- like the ACWIA fee and the fraud prevention and detection fee -- must be paid for by the employer. It’s also recommended that the employer pay any attorney fees and filing fees. If your employer is asking for you to contribute, you may want to do some research, or contact us to help answer your question!
At the end of the day, interviewing and finding the right company is a hard thing to do. But we're confident you'll get there and hope you are too. Good luck out there!