The Path to Employment and Citizenship for Foreign Students

An immigration attorney gives tips to connect skilled students with Pennsylvania employers

By Judy Malmon, J.D. | Last updated on July 25, 2022

Finding great employees for highly skilled niche jobs, particularly in technology and medical fields, can be a challenge. Foreign students who are attending academic programs in the United States can be a rich source of talent for savvy small and mid-size employers who leverage the H-1B visa program, netting a win-win for both firms and graduates looking to stay in the U.S. and work full-time. 

“A lot of people think of H-1Bs at big companies, the Apples and the Googles,” says Philadelphia immigration attorney William John Vandenberg, of Hogan & Vandenberg. “The thing that’s nice about H-1B is that it levels the playing field between big and small companies. A small IT company can hire a really smart person out of college. Any company, so long as it’s a real company with profit, can hire H-1B workers; they get in line in the same way.”

Vandenberg counsels foreign job-seekers to approach smaller companies who need the specialized skills they have to offer, noting that this can be supportive of a long-term strategy to remain in the country. “Small to mid-size companies are a great place to look, because you develop a relationship. If you’re at Google or Apple, you’re one of many. But at a smaller firm, you have a relationship with your employer, and that can lead to opportunities for permanent residence. Larger employers may or may not have the incentive to take the next step, which is to apply for lawful permanent resident. At a smaller firm, you’re less replaceable. They want to keep people and invest in them.”

Working with universities is a great way to connect talent to potential employers, he adds.

“The way I look at it, there’s only so many people that have the skills that America needs,” Vandenberg says. “There are a lot of markets who would love to have them, but they’re attracted to coming here because we’re like the Carnegie Hall of employers—if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. ‘A’ players like to play with ‘A’ players, as Steve Jobs said. The U.S. has done a great job in attracting these ‘A’ players. So, the next step in maximizing a return on that is: How do we keep them?  Where are we going to find the next Google, the next Tesla—so many things we do each day has an immigrant’s hand in it. When someone gets a PhD from Stanford, we don’t want that person to leave; we want them to stay. Everything they invent makes American lives better.”

Additional employment options may be available to these workers through the university setting. One is finding employment through a school, as universities and colleges are not subject to H-1B work visa quotas, like other employers. They can hire as many H-1Bs as they want.

A second option is that a successful student can get up to 36 months of optional practical training, making their authorization open-ended. “Additionally,” Vandenberg says, “if they’ve already completed that and they still don’t have an employer, they can work concurrently at a non-cap university and also work part-time at a cap-subject employer. So, there are a lot of options for foreign students to stay in the U.S. and work toward permanent residency.”

Vandenberg recommends that students work with their foreign student office and consult with an attorney to explore options. “Even when you think some doors are closed, speaking with a good immigration lawyer can often find doors that are open or find solutions.”

For more information on this area of law, see our immigration overview.

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