Sponsorship: It’s a word that makes international job seekers and employers cringe. I would know. As a non-U.S. citizen going through my job search now in America, I know that without company sponsorship, I can’t get a visa to work here. It’s tough bringing up it up. It costs employers money, and they’re gambling on somebody they’ve only just met.
But the good news is sponsorship is possible if you market yourself right and know when to broach the topic with potential employers. Before I give my two cents, though, it’s important to understand that there are no hard and fast rules as to when to bring it up. I came to this conclusion after talking to various international students who did get sponsorship. Essentially, asking for a work visa is a judgment call. Here are some questions to think about before you bring up the “S” word.
1. Are you applying from outside the U.S.? If so, then it will be obvious from the start you need sponsorship and you’ll have to bring it up early. If you’re applying from within the U.S. and are on an Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa, then you have time to sell yourself better during interviews before bringing up that ”S” word. Impress your prospective employers with your skills. Then when you get a sense that they like you enough, mention sponsorship.
2. What field are you in? If you’re in a high-demand field, you’ll find that companies are more willing to sponsor and might already have in-house lawyers ready to sort out the paperwork for you. So it’s safe to bring up sponsorship early on in the process. However, if you’re in a field that’s tougher to break into, you don’t want to bring up sponsorship too early. I spoke to many international students who got sponsorships in the field of journalism and they said it’s best to wait until you land an interview. See how the interview goes and if you get the sense that they like you, then bring it up towards the end of the interview. If there are several rounds of interviews, wait until the second or third round of interviews to bring up sponsorship. But don’t wait until it’s too late – like after you start the job – because there’s no guarantee that they’ll keep you on beyond your OPT.
3. How big is the company? Not all big companies are willing to sponsor, so do your research. You might just be wasting your time with some of them. If it is a big company with a track record of hiring foreigners, then it’s safe to say you can bring up sponsorship somewhat early on, but only if they like you enough. If it’s a smaller company, they may not be used to the idea of sponsorship, so you’ll have to ease them into it.
Once you do bring up sponsorship, what do you say? It’s essential that you reassure those you are interviewing with, especially at smaller companies, that you understand the process and can answer any questions. Many people are afraid of sponsorship because they don’t understand what the process entails. Show them that you know the details and they’ll be more confident about hiring you.
Some examples of what a company should know about sponsorship.
1. For H-1B: The company must first make “good faith” attempts to recruit US workers using “procedures that meet industry-wide standards.”
2. For H-1B: The company must pay you the wage paid to similar workers in the company or the “prevailing wage,” which is determined by the state.
3. For H-1B: There are 65,000 new H-1B visas available every year on April 1st. The quota is usually filled-up by April 2nd. There are 20,000 H-1B visas available for those with Master’s degrees or higher from a U.S. university. The first day you may work on these new visas is on October 1st, unless you are a on OPT on your F-1 Visa, in which case, there is a new “cap-gap” provision which extends your OPT until October 1st.
4. If you are a citizen of Singapore or Chile, free-trade agreements have established a new work visa: H-1B1. They have different quotas from the H-1B and are easier to obtain.
5. If you are a citizen of Mexico or Canada, a NAFTA provision allows you to work in the U.S. without a visa, granted you fit into a certain job category and have the right qualifications.
It’s essential that you know everything beforehand about visas like the OPT and H-1B and any immigration rules associated with it. You don’t have to overwhelm them by explaining everything right there and then, but you should be prepared to answer questions if they have them. Most importantly, when you bring up sponsorship, highlight your strengths again and explain that because sponsorship is something that requires a commitment on their end, you are just as serious about working for them over the long term in return.