6 Options for International Students Who Didn’t Win the H-1B Lottery
Published: May 04, 2021
Another H-1B lottery season has come to an end. This year, the number of applications far exceeded the 85,000 allotted H-1Bs, the visas international students typically need to work in the U.S. after graduation. This means that, yet again, numerous students who wanted H-1Bs won’t get them. However, all is not lost for students who didn’t get lucky in the lottery. There’s still much they can do to keep their hopes alive of living and working in the U.S. post-graduation.
Recently, we spoke with international student career expert Marcelo Barros about what these students can do now, how a Biden presidency will likely affect the H-1B lottery and international students’ job search, and more. Below is an excerpt of that conversation.
Vault: First of all, now that Biden has been in office for 100 days, what’s your sense of how the H-1B program might change going forward?
Barros: There seems to be some indication that next year’s H-1B lottery could shift from the current random selection process to one based on the highest wages. Unless the Biden administration changes the policy, which was devised by the Trump administration, employers who pay their H-1B candidates higher wages could have the best chance of securing H-1B visas for their workers. This is an important ongoing topic that my firm, The International Advantage, along with several other organizations are very actively involved with. And this could be an important change in the H-1B program. But none of us should get ahead of ourselves, because in the end nothing might happen. It’s best not to get distracted by this possible change. International students are always much better off investing their time and energy developing their profiles so they can become indispensable to employers who are visa-friendly and might be interested in hiring them.
How has the Biden presidency affected employers' strategies around hiring international students and using the H-1B program?
During the Trump Administration, the executive order "Buy American Hire American" had a very negative impact on some important aspects of the H-1B program. There were policies in place especially designed to make it harder for U.S. employers to get H-1B visas approved for their international hires. We’re all aware of the high number of H-1B RFEs and denials under the Trump administration. Well, we live in a different world now. In fact, the infamous "Buy American Hire American" executive order has been revoked. So, international students should communicate to U.S. employers that might be on the fence about hiring them due to any visa complications that the turbulence we all experienced with the H-1B program is something of the past. Going forward, it’s reasonable for us all to expect a more predictable process for U.S. organizations interested in hiring international students. This is great news. Overall, the Biden administration is far friendlier to immigrants in general. Employers should feel much more comfortable and confident hiring international students going forward under the current administration.
Is it fair to say that Democratic administrations are more favorable for international students than Republican ones?
Regardless of whether we have a Democratic or a Republican president, the uncertainty of possibly not being able to work in the U.S. for at least some time after graduation continues to be a huge source of concern for international students. In other words, the transition from an F-1 student visa to OPT [Optional Practice Training] and then hopefully to an H-1B is a challenging path to figure it out. There are a lot of uncertainties along the way.
Are there any common mistakes that keep international students from maximizing their odds of securing U.S. jobs?
While there might be some job-search best practices that apply to most international students, I recommend that international students sit down with career advisors from their universities to find specific job-search strategies that might give them the best chances of securing good U.S. jobs in their fields. This is one of the key strengths of the U.S. education system: the chance to receive customized feedback about your job-search needs. To not take advantage of this great perk would be a big mistake. Sadly, judging by many of the questions I receive daily from international students wishing to work in the U.S. after graduation, it seems that a lot of international students out there haven’t been regularly using their university career services resources.
Turning to the latest H-1B lottery, what options are available now for international students who didn’t get lucky and win a visa?
Sadly, the reality is alternative visa solutions are limited. However, there are several options that international students might be able to explore with the assistance of immigration attorneys. Here are a few:
1. OPT extension
Some international students might be eligible for two-year extensions of OPT if their degrees were in recognized STEM fields. These students will need to coordinate the STEM OPT extension process with their universities. By the way, the advantages that international students with STEM majors have when it comes to staying and working in the U.S. after graduation can’t be stressed enough.
2. Specific work visas for certain citizens
Based on certain free trade agreements, there are several work visas available only to citizens of certain countries. Specifically, citizens of Canada and Mexico can qualify for the TN professional work visa if they’ll work in certain professions.
3. The O-1 “extraordinary ability” visa
Though this option won’t be viable for most of the typical international college grads, I’ve seen a few international students qualify for the O-1 “Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement” visa. Often, scientists, academics, and researchers more easily qualify for this visa type, as it requires extensive documentation of one’s achievements. But those with prominent achievements in other settings and industries might also qualify.
4. Temporary relocation and return under the L-1 “intracompany transferee” visa
If a U.S. employer has an international presence, with entities outside the United States, it might be able to relocate an international hire temporarily and then bring that employee back to the U.S under the L-1 “Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager” visa or attempt to get an H-1B visa the following year. I’ve worked with several international students in the past who’ve successfully implemented this strategy and are now back working in the U.S.
5. Work out of your home country and later transfer back to the U.S.
As remote work becomes the norm rather than the expectation these days due to Covid, those who didn’t get lucky with the H-1B lottery might simply want to ask their management teams if they could work out of their home countries until there’s an opportunity to get transferred back to the U.S. This could be a nice solution, and it normally doesn’t involve the need to secure immigration visas.
6. Target organizations that don’t participate in the lottery
There are some organizations in the U.S. that don’t need to participate in the H-1B lottery and therefore aren’t subject to the annual H-1B cap of 85,000 visas available. These organizations are known as cap-exempt employers. Organizations that would normally be part of this group of employers include: institutions of higher education, nonprofits tied to institutions of higher education, nonprofit research organizations, and government research organizations. So, for example, an international student working as a financial analyst for a Wall Street bank who didn’t get lucky with the H-1B lottery could try to secure a finance job with a university hospital and avoid the H-1B lottery altogether.
Is there anything else important to add about the H-1B lottery, the past year, or the year ahead as it relates to international students and their U.S. job search?
I think it's important to add that neither Covid nor President Trump stopped many international students from getting hired in 2020 under adverse conditions. Many students figured out that hiring actually expanded in 2020 for several companies operating in certain industries. Some international students creatively re-organized their list of target companies and focused their job-search efforts around firms that were open to hiring during the pandemic. That was a big win.
Marcelo Barros is the founder of The International Advantage, a firm specializing in providing job search training for international students who seek U.S. jobs. Barros partners with over 50 U.S. universities to help their international students get noticed and hired. Barros encourages International students who seek U.S. jobs or internships to enroll in The International Advantage Get Hired Video Course, designed to help foreign students beat visa odds and secure U.S. employment, including internships.