How MBA Students Can Navigate The Visa Maze

Ivan Kerbel, founder of The Practice MBA

Ivan Kerbel, founder of Practice MBA


While a foreign MBA student’s odds of winning the H-1B lottery right out of the gate stand at only 33% under current application numbers, those who lose still have a total of 12 months of work authorized via their Optional Practical Training student work visas, and their employer can apply the following year, Rongere says. By her calculations – factoring in the special 20,000-visa sub-lottery MBAs are entered into as master’s students or graduates – an MBA willing to take two shots at the H-1B has a 75% chance of getting one.

As at Owen, careers staff at Stanford get their hooks into foreign students early. “We really, really start educating our students as soon as the MBA admit weekend,” Rongere says. “We talk about all the options, the employment authorizations, how they can apply.” The university’s Bechtel International Center presents workshops on the visa options, and brings in a high-profile immigration lawyer to advise students.

“Our students, they know what are the options, and then they can plan ahead,” Rongere says. “Advance planning is key for students, and the H-1B application process is really slow. It can take three months.”


On-campus recruiting starts in early October, so international students offered U.S. jobs can respond to employers by January, and companies who hire them have time to complete paperwork required by the U.S. labor department, and submit their H-1B applications by the April 1 deadline, Rongere says.

At the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management, international students are urged to develop a big FIG – to expand their career search across the dimensions of function, industry, and geography: FIG. “Our coaching staff strongly encourages them to broaden their FIG,” says Read McNamara, managing director of the Career Management Center at Owen.

Practice MBA’s Kerbel suggests MBA students stymied by visa issues in their search for their dream job may be able to take a sideways approach. For a student set on working in the entertainment field but finds only consulting firms are willing to sponsor an H-1B, a consulting firm that has an entertainment practice might provide an entry point to actualizing the dream. “In three, four years time you may have even more to offer to the type of company that you were interested in in the first place,” Kerbel says. “You will have cruised through the H-1B initial hurdle coming out of school.”

Marcelo Barros, former associate director of MBA career coaching at the University of Maryland, and author of the just-released book The International Advantage. Get Noticed. Get Hired!, recommends that international MBAs focus on what they can offer to companies. “I counsel students to be more focused on finding their sweet spot and applying for jobs where they are highly competitive and offer differentiated value to prospective employers,” Barros says. “Chances of sponsorship increase when international students direct their energies correctly.”

And Barros also adds another trick to the foreign MBA’s H-1B arsenal: early program completion. If a student who has a job offer can finish her or his MBA requirements before the April 1 H-1B application deadline, the MBA has a shot at the visa right out of school, and by completing the program and effectively graduating, can qualify for the pre-lottery of 20,000 H-1B visas dedicated to graduates of master’s programs, Barros says. “This is a really nice situation to be in, but requires careful planning and an ‘early’ job offer. It is something for international students to explore and discuss with the (employer’s) attorney filing their petition.”

 One mistake not to make concerns the Employment Authorization Document required to work under the Optional Practical Training student work visa that many MBAs use for working 12 months during or after their programs. Some students put their graduation date down for their EAD start date – but if they’re not starting their job immediately upon graduating, they deprive themselves of time on their work visa, because the 12-month clock starts ticking on the date specified on the EAD, notes Kellogg MBA Sudhanshu Shekhar.


How many foreign would-be MBA all-stars never apply to U.S. business schools because of the visa obstacles is not possible to know, Kerbel says. “How do you know how many people never ring the doorbell?” Kerbel says.

Although the vast majority of international students in U.S. business schools want to stay in America and work after graduation, “fantastic opportunities” may exist in graduates’ home countries or regions, says Dirks of Fuqua. One 2015 Fuqua MBA headed out to Silicon Valley on his job search, developed a strong network, and ended up with a job offer. But he also had discussions with a firm based in California but preparing to expand to India, where he had worked before. He took a job with the company in India. “For him, it was about the nature of the opportunity,” Dirks says. “When he evaluated those opportunities he felt that this opportunity was just too good to pass up.”

And in the increasingly globalized business arena, many people from other countries may be able to achieve their business goals outside the U.S., Kerbel says. “Is it as critical to work and study in the U.S. now as it was in the past with what you’re trying to do with your career and your life?” Kerbel asks. “Sticking around in China may be a faster path to success, wealth, leadership, and impact than going to school.”

Part of a series on the U.S. job market for international MBAs

Part of a series on the U.S. job market for international MBAs

International MBA Students & The H-1B


H-1B Visa Cap Making It More Difficult For International MBAs To Land U.S. Jobs

Why U.S. Business Schools Want More H-1B Visas

How MBA Students Can Navigate The H-1B Visa Maze

The H-1B Visa Abuses That Make It Harder For MBAs To Work In The U.S.

Tuck MBA Offers Work Visa Advice

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