The 28-year-old Shekhar had come to America from India to obtain an MBA from a top school, secure a high-level consulting job, and make an impact on global business practices. “If you work in India you can only influence India. That’s not what I came here for,” says Shekhar. “I came here for gaining the influence and the opportunity to maybe influence the strategy of the whole world.”
Until this spring, it appeared he was well on his way. But now, Shekhar, who graduated from Kellogg with an MBA last year, is about to leave the U.S. in frustration, the victim of a controversial, lottery-based work-visa program that puts international MBAs in the same category as foreign mid-level IT workers accused of taking jobs from Americans.
Like many international students who come to a U.S. school for an MBA degree, he had hoped to land a job that would allow him to stay and work in the U.S. But Shekhar did not win the H-1B visa lottery, that this year saw 233,000 applications for only 85,000 of the “specialty occupation” visas for foreign nationals with bachelor’s degrees or higher. Instead, Shekhar will be leaving for Amsterdam to start work there for Strategy& as soon as his Dutch work permit comes through.
‘I SHOULD ADD VALUE TO THE ECONOMY OF THE U.S.’
“It’s been frustrating, I will be honest,” he concedes.“I learned so much in the U.S. I should add value to the economy of the U.S.” His student work visa that allows 12 months of employment during or after schooling has just expired. “I can only stay in the U.S. for 60 days and then I cannot even stay, I have to go out. It’s two months of no work, which is not great.”
American business schools don’t tend to highlight potential visa problems for international MBAs, but applicants should be diligent enough to do the research on the odds, Shekhar says. “If anybody comes to the U.S. thinking it’s a 100% surety that they’re going to get an H-1B, they’re stupid and they shouldn’t have been admitted in the first place. You can get unlucky, and you have to prepare for that.”
Friends of Shekhar’s who had graduated from Harvard Business School and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business also failed to obtain the H-1B, he says. “None of those guys ever planned on not getting it, and some of them are in a bigger soup than I am,” Shekhar says.
It’s difficult to say what percentage of international students who want to work and live in the U.S. with their MBAs are unable to do so. The careers officer for a prominent business school, declining to provide an estimate, says only it is “a considerable percentage.” The recent GMAC report of MBA employers suggests it is certainly a significant problem.
ALMOST HALF OF COMPANIES THAT HIRE MBAS IN THE U.S. SAY NO TO FOREIGN MBAS
Only 28% of the employers who plan to hire MBAs in the U.S. this year expect to hire international candidates, according to a study released last month by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). Another 25% said they have no objections to foreign hires but had no specific plans to make an employment offer to anyone from outside the U.S. Worse, 47% of the companies hiring MBAs this year in the U.S. said flatly they would not employ international graduates.
Many of the companies that refuse to even consider foreign-born MBAs told GMAC that international hires cost too much, require time-consuming paperwork and documentation, face a limited supply of visas, and often pose language barriers and an additional investment of time in the hiring process. Security clearances and cultural differences were also reasons cited by companies for their refusal to hire international MBAs.