It’s been more than a week since Joe Biden was elected the 46th president of the United States. Following Biden’s successful presidential bid, we spoke with international student career expert Marcelo Barros to get a sense of how a Biden presidency will affect international students and their U.S. job search. We discussed immigration policy, H-1B visas, what students can do now, and more. Below is an excerpt of that conversation.
Vault: First of all, how did international students react to the outcome of the election?
Barros: In general, I think international students felt immense relief regarding the news that Biden won the election. The Trump presidency took quite an emotional toll on international students. Under the Trump administration, particularly towards the end of it, international students felt like they were constantly under attack. They also felt like they were not welcomed in the U.S.—and, in fact, they were not.
What about U.S. employers? How did U.S. companies that rely on employing international students react to the news that Biden will be the next president?
With a huge sense of relief as well. U.S. employers that rely on the H-1B program to tap into the global workforce understood that the goal of the Trump administration was to curtail all immigration—and that included curtailing the H-1B visa program, typically the main visa program U.S. firms use to hire international students.
In particular, the tech sector just couldn’t take it anymore. Fast-growing tech companies need many highly skilled workers, and these tech workers are often very difficult to find in the U.S. For example, there just aren’t enough software developers and engineers to meet demand, and this is often cited as the single greatest limiting factor to growing a U.S. tech company today. So, U.S. firms depend on favorable government policy in order to hire the right people to fill key positions.
What can U.S. employers who rely on international students expect under a Biden presidency?
Going forward, international student-friendly firms can expect less red tape and more H-1B approval predictability. In other words, they can expect the government to act according to the rule of law when reviewing H-1B applications. Everyone, including court judges, is tired of bogus and illegal H-1B denials or RFEs [requests for evidence]. U.S. firms will be relieved if a Biden administration returns U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policies to those of the Obama administration. And it’s very reasonable to expect that to happen. We’ll know much more in the first half of 2021 during the first H-1B filing season under Biden.
Going backward for a bit, due to the Trump administration’s policies, were international students less motivated to stay in the U.S. after graduation?
No, I don’t think so. The sense of frustration and fear was certainly extremely high, but in general, international students continued to push forward, hoping to land a job in the U.S after graduation. During the Trump presidency, international students remained increasingly interested in joining the U.S. workforce after graduation. Getting a U.S. college diploma is a source of pride—it’s certainly an important milestone in one’s life—but it pales in comparison to getting a well-paying job with a top U.S. firm in your desired field.
How did international student job placement fare under the Trump administration?
Excellent job opportunities didn’t cease to exist for international students under the Trump administration. Thousands of international students secured U.S. jobs and H-1B visas. What did change was the level of uncertainty that U.S. firms experienced when filing H-1B applications for their international hires. But even with the additional red tape and uncertainty, there were a record number (275,000) of H-1B applications in 2020. This is great news for international students, and it’s evidence that President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order signed in 2017 didn’t achieve its goals.
What adjustments did your company The International Advantage have to make during the Trump administration?
Surprisingly very little, if any at all. The teachings from The International Advantage aren't dependent on who’s president or whether or not current immigration policies favor international students. As long as H-1B visas are being allocated, The International Advantage will continue to help international students beat visa odds, secure great jobs, explode professionally, and make an impact in whatever industry they wish to join.
Given the outcome of the election, what do you recommend international students do now?
I've been telling international students to do the following five things:
1. Get into job search mode before you come to the U.S. Due to Covid and unfavorable immigration policies, many prospective international students have opted to defer enrollment at U.S. universities until the fall of 2021. These students should be job searching now. For example, they can leverage social media platforms to start connecting with people who work at firms they may want to target once they arrive in the U.S.
2. Follow U.S. politics if you want, but do so from a distance. Above all, don’t try to interpret possible changes to the H-1B program on your own. Don’t waste time and emotional energy overreacting to immigration announcements that might be irrelevant. Instead, take action to develop skills that are in demand.
3. Don’t be afraid to be excellent. Leverage this moment of transition in the U.S. to confidently own your international advantages and show the world and U.S. employers what you can produce. Honor the gifts given to you by your country of birth and capitalize on the endless opportunities the U.S. provides.
4. Take a much needed deep breath. Let go of the anxiety and feeling of rejection you might have experienced in the past four years—and replace fear with creative job search strategies that allow you to get noticed by U.S. employers, beat visa odds, and get hired.
5. Read the following words from the Biden campaign’s website. "For generations, immigrants have fortified our most valuable competitive advantage—our spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. Key sectors of the U.S. economy, from agriculture to technology, rely on immigration. Working-age immigrants keep our economy growing, our communities thriving, and country moving forward."
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 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.
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