With over 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students hailing from 128 countries outside the United States, it is clear that there is a very strong international presence at the University. Their unique perspectives and backgrounds help to enrich the academic environment for all students and — from a macro perspective — their burgeoning presence in the workforce has become a crucial component of the U.S. economy.
However, in recent years we have started to see a decline in the rate of foreign students staying in the United States after graduation. A major contributing factor to this trend is the difficult process of finding American employers who are willing to provide visa sponsorship — a necessity for foreigners to work in our country. While it’s true that this is an unbelievably complex issue influenced by dozens of immutable factors such as government policy, there is still a lot that the University itself can do to further help international students in the uphill battle of recruiting.
The University does already provide international students with numerous resources. For instance, U.Va. Career Services offers an entire webpage dedicated to helping them in the job search. This site provides ample insight on the legal and bureaucratic hurdles required in obtaining sponsorship, as well as information about employers who have hired international Virginia students in the past.
However, in consultation with international students, there are several major issues that they still face — particularly with regards to chaotic career fairs. For those who have never attended these events, imagine hundreds upon hundreds of anxious, sweaty students packed into a room, jostling and maneuvering in a frenzy for a chance to speak with a relatively sparse number of recruiters. This process is made even more strenuous for foreigners, who have the added goal of obtaining visa sponsorship in addition to a job offer. While Handshake is certainly a great resource for recruiting, direct conversation with employers is generally regarded as the most effective way of securing a job opportunity. Thus, it is crucial that the University does all that it can to streamline these events for international students.
First off, the University does not label which employers at a career fair offer visa sponsorship. As a result, the already chaotic environment is made even more hectic as the burden falls on the students themselves to identify which firms are actually viable opportunities. The University should clearly advertise — whether online, on-site or preferably both — which employers offer visa sponsorship. This would help to improve the career fair process for foreign students, who would then know which firms to prioritize while searching.
Moreover, there is often a severe lack of awareness of the sponsorship process on the part of employers. I have heard myriad anecdotes of employers at career fairs claiming that they offer sponsorship, but the recruiters and company liaisons are unable to answer any specific questions on the matter — or are entirely oblivious in some cases. This can leave international students immensely frustrated and at a bit of an impasse, since they cannot know for certain whether the firms are actually viable. While this is obviously not the fault of the University, they do have the resources to ameliorate this problem.
Namely, the University should create a line of communication between all incoming recruiters with regards to the sponsorship process, so at the very least they are made aware of what exactly it entails. This could be as simple as providing online resources targeted at these company liaisons, or perhaps access to a hotline or knowledge base where their questions could be answered. In turn, recruiters would be better equipped to communicate with prospective international applicants, providing a more effective recruiting experience for both parties.
No matter your school or major, I think it’s safe to say that each and every one of us has been personally impacted by the presence of our international classmates at some point. Nothing breaks my heart more than to hear from some of the brightest and kindest people I’ve come to know that they will have to return to their home countries simply because they can’t find a job. While the University already does a lot, streamlining the career fair process will significantly improve international recruiting and increase the likelihood of international students finding gainful employment.
Milan Bharadwaj is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.