U.S. Work Visas: Getting a Consultant Job As An International Student

by Jaineel Aga

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Best Book on Getting Consulting Jobs In India.

Many Indian students ask me, “how do I decide between finding consultant work in India or working for a consulting firm in the US, UK, Australia, or EU?”

This is a question that requires a fair amount of deliberation. There are multiple factors to consider when making this decision.

The first and foremost factor would be the difficulty of getting a job outside of India versus getting a job locally. Some readers might be somewhat unfamiliar with the labor laws and policies in countries outside of India. Many major countries like the U.S. or countries in the EU have their own specific set of rules and regulations that control how many and what kind of jobs are available for international workers.

The H-1B Work Visa

The U.S. has a special work visa known as the H-1B, which is an employment visa. Any foreign students and nationals, whether they be from India, China, or any other country overseas, must first obtain an H-1B visa before they can work in the United States.

Let's say, for example, that you just landed a job at McKinsey in Boston. If McKinsey decides to hire you and knows that you’re an international student, they'll file for an H-1B visa on your behalf. When and if your visa is cleared, you’ll then be able to work with McKinsey inside the U.S.

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Many Indian students ask me, “how do I decide between finding consultant work in India or working for a consulting firm in the US, UK, Australia, or EU?”

This is a question that requires a fair amount of deliberation. There are multiple factors to consider when making this decision.

The first and foremost factor would be the difficulty of getting a job outside of India versus getting a job locally. Some readers might be somewhat unfamiliar with the labor laws and policies in countries outside of India. Many major countries like the U.S. or countries in the EU have their own specific set of rules and regulations that control how many and what kind of jobs are available for international workers.

The H-1B Work Visa

The U.S. has a special work visa known as the H-1B, which is an employment visa. Any foreign students and nationals, whether they be from India, China, or any other country overseas, must first obtain an H-1B visa before they can work in the United States.

Let's say, for example, that you just landed a job at McKinsey in Boston. If McKinsey decides to hire you and knows that you’re an international student, they'll file for an H-1B visa on your behalf. When and if your visa is cleared, you’ll then be able to work with McKinsey inside the U.S.

You can visit the official US government website for more details about visas by clicking here.

The process is generally straightforward, but there are also quite a few problems that international students have come across in the last 4 or 5 years.

The Issue of Visa Caps

One of the key characteristics of the H-1B is the limited amount of job slots available each year.

There are only 65,000 slots each year for international students. There are also 20,000 additional slots for master’s students, which brings the total amount of slots up to 85,000 visas per year. When there are more eligible applicants than available visas, a lottery system decides who gets a visa and who doesn’t.

This visa limit became a problem in 2008. This was the peak of the U.S. economy. Businesses were growing quickly and creating jobs at a quick pace. In 2008, applicant numbers actually breached the 85,000 visa cap. There were at least 2 times more students than the cap amount participating in the visa lottery; only 85,000 made it in the H-1B lottery.

As a result, many consulting firms, banks, and other private institutions were unable to retain or recruit the talent that they had recruited on various U.S. campuses because of the visa cap, which caused a significant amount of hardship to these recruiters. Later, in 2009, when I went through the job recruitment process, many companies required that all job applicants have a green card, U.S. residency, or a pre-qualified H-1B, before even beginning the application process.

This new development was a strange and shocking reality for many international students like me. The new truth was that companies were simply unwilling to jeopardize or take chances with their recruitment efforts.

Companies want to avoid the possibility that the international students they select won't receive a visa in the lottery; if they don't, it means wasted recruitment time.

Government labor regulations are always an important issue to consider for those studying abroad in the U.S. Even if you build a strong resume, you might end up being rejected early in the application process.

Following the recent economic recession, things have been quite different. For example, in 2009, there were so many job cuts and losses that not even 60% of the 85,000 cap for the H1-B was filled. Companies who applied on behalf of recruits for an H-1B visa in 2009 didn't need to worry about the lottery. As long as the international worker met basic eligibility requirements, they received a work visa easily.

Understanding STEM and OPT

There are additional labor policies regarding students pursuing degrees in engineering, technology, or math. There's a degree category known as STEM, which means Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. There are multiple degrees that fall under the purview of the STEM designation. Anyone pursuing an eligible STEM degree has a different set of work authorization rules in the United States.

Anyone coming from a STEM degree program is eligible to work under OPT, which is the Optional Practical Training period in the U.S.

STEM students can work in the U.S. for roughly 2.5 years. This is a flexible labor law that allows many students to stay in the U.S. for a couple of years after graduating. This work opportunity allows students to obtain work experience and pay off some of their student loans.

One thing you should keep in mind when applying to consulting firms is that consulting firms generally don’t require applicants to have a specific technology, science, engineering, or math major. Therefore, not all students applying for consulting work would be eligible for OPT under the STEM designation.

Consulting Firms Usually OPT Out of E-Verify

Any company that wishes for OPT eligibility needs to participate in E-Verify, which is an online program registered with Homeland Security. You're obligated to provide them with certain details about your employment, your nationality, and so on.

Most consulting firms, banks, and other private institutions dislike E-Verify and want to avoid it. Most consulting firms and banks don't participate in E-Verify and therefore aren't eligible for OPT work authorization, even if the job applicant comes from a STEM degree program.

When it comes to consulting firms, the main concern for internationals student should be the 65,000 cap for undergraduates and the 20,000 cap for internationals with master’s degrees.

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