The prospect of finding your first job after graduation is one that strikes many students with a mixture of anxiety and excitement. For international students, the anxiety also spurs a sense of urgency, because they have a limited time frame to either find a job in the country where they are studying, or go home.

Visas and Timeframes

Due to the added complexity of securing visas and permits—which can take up to four months just to apply for—you should start preparing at least a year in advance to ensure a productive job search. Most importantly, find out exactly what forms to fill out and what deadlines you must meet to find work in your target country, and organise your schedule accordingly. Another way to advance your chances is to take summer classes so you can graduate early, reducing your competition by hitting the job market ahead of most of your peers. It’s also likely that your visa application will be processed sooner in a less busy season than spring, when the majority of international students will be graduating. Each country has its own process for visa and work permits, post graduating; here are a few such stipulations that international students have to follow:

  • In America, a student studying on an F-1 visa has 60 days to either enroll in a graduate program or find a job in his major field of study, so he can work for up to one year under an Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa. A graduate seeking longer-term employment must find sponsorship from an employer to obtain an H-1B non-immigrant visa for skilled foreign workers. Because of its expense (approximately $4,000), lengthy processing time, and rarity (there are only 85,000 such visas available annually), an H-1B is far harder to secure than an OPT.  
  • In the UK, an international student has four months after graduation to find work under a Tier 2 Visa, which also requires a sponsorship license from the employer, a minimum salary (which may vary according to profession) and typically, a minimum personal savings.
  • In Canada, which hosted more than 336,000 international students in 2014, employment requires enrollment in the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP). Students may apply for work permits within 90 days of official graduation or explore their eligibility to immigrate as skilled workers through the Express Entry program.

Once you’ve mastered the visa application process with its due dates and associated costs, the next step is research. Locate companies in your major field of study and determine the following for each: Do your target companies sponsor visas? What authorisation, if any, do you need to apply for? How long will it take to complete the process?

Another way to advance your chances is to take summer classes so you can graduate early, reducing your competition by hitting the job market ahead of most of your peers.

Networking

When it comes to standing out in a pool of applicants, it helps to have connections. That’s why internships—even unpaid ones—are a huge asset, both for access to valuable work experience and the opportunity to impress colleagues who can help you after graduation. What you know does not suffice when seeking a job; who you know may turn out to be equally, and at times, more important. Here are a few tips to help you get in touch with the right people:

  • Networking works best when you make it a part of your routine. Let’s face it: an estimated 70% of jobs are found through contacts, and the more contacts you have, the better your chances will be. So attend as many job fairs, alumni events, social hours, and volunteer fundraisers throughout your college life, and especially in your final year (without neglecting your homework). A good way to approach this is to realise that this is a good way to be social and even make a few genuine friendships along the way.
  • Don’t be shy about asking anyone, and everyone, for advice or introductions in your field of study and beyond. Helping you thrive is what your mentors and professors are there for, but don’t stop there: ask friends’ parents, professional alumni, in fact anyone you know who has an interesting career. You never know where the lead to your next job is going to come from. Seize every chance you get to meet people who might help your cause.

Make Job-hunting Your Job

Although this is not quite as competitive as the Hunger Games, the odds may not be “ever in your favor” as an international job seeker. It’s an unavoidable reality that employers prefer to hire long-term employees who don’t need visa sponsorship. Don’t get discouraged though; diversity is an aspect that most employers consider important. You still have a great chance to work abroad, but it will take energy, enthusiasm, allies and unwavering focus.

  • The first place to enlist resources is through your school’s international student office and career development center. Here you will find information about opportunities in your target field and the steps you must take to get them. You may want to connect with a career coach and get help with crafting a standout resume.
  • Trembling at the thought of your first job interview? It’s easier than you think, and the sooner you start going for interviews, the more confident you’ll become. In fact, you don’t have to wait for employment authorisation to start applying for jobs and practicing your interview skills. Take every interview you can get, even if you have to wait a while to legally begin work. Not only will you become more comfortable with the process, you will also make contacts you can return to for jobs after graduation.
  • To beat the odds against you, you will need to apply early and often. Avoid dejection by adjusting your expectations accordingly; you may receive only five responses for every fifty applications you send out. It’s OK. Keep applying. You overcame steep obstacles to get into an international university, and you can overcome this too.
  • Don’t hesitate to apply for shorter-term contract jobs. Although your residency status might deter employers from hiring you for long-term positions, a one-year contract could be easier to find.

Advanced Degree, Advanced Job Options

While your school’s international student and career office may offer general guidance, you should look within your academic department for peers and professors to inform your job search. If you are graduating with your masters in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) field, you may be in luck: according to the latest report on ‘Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers’ by the US Citizenship and Immigrant Services (USCIS), 75% overall of H-1B sponsorships are granted to occupations in computer science, engineering, medicine and health.

An interesting fact to note, while the percentage of sponsorships granted to master’s graduates (43%) is less than the percentage granted to bachelor’s graduates (45%) in 2014, the positions available to advanced degree holders are more specialised and—depending on experience—likely to be better paying than the entry-level jobs available to recent undergraduates.  

Home May be Where the Jobs Are

It may turn out that the place where your international degree gives you the greatest advantage is, in fact, the country you left to pursue it!  While visa complications can be a handicap to employment in the country where you studied, your overseas education will most likely be attractive to employers at home. That’s why there are increasing numbers of international students returning home to support the growth of their native economies.

But home isn’t the only place where an international degree might improve your job prospects. Some students widen their job search to include a third or fourth country beyond their homeland and school location, hoping to expand on the versatility, cultural awareness and self-reliance that studying abroad has given them. If fluency in multiple languages is part of your skill set, your international experience may be the passport you need to launch your own exciting global career.

As you transition from being a full-time student abroad to a full-time employee, be open to the new experience, wherever it may lead you; remember that your unique experience is a stepping stone to even greater things ahead.

About the Author:  Julia Clinger is an American writer who has lived in Germany and Switzerland. She is currently an advertising copywriter in Boston, Massachusetts.