Tech and startup interest in international hiring also could have to do with the background of founders and C-suite staff. According to a year-old report from the National Foundation for American Policy, more than half of U.S. unicorns (private companies valued at at least $1 billion), have a founder born outside of the U.S. More than 70% of those 87 unicorns have international-born “key members” of management and product development teams. In the same report, the National Venture Capital Association found 25% of venture-backed companies that went public between 1990 to 2005 had an immigrant founder. From 2006 to 2012, the rate jumped to 33%. Immigrant-founded companies are growing in number and size and adding significant contributions to the U.S. economy.
But competition for H-1B sponsorship has also increased drastically. Each year the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants 65,000 new H-1B “regular” visas and 20,000 new H-1B “master’s exempt” visas. In 2016, some 236,000 international workers eager to stay in the U.S. applied for the 85,000 slots — more than any other previous year. Only two years earlier, in 2014, only 172,500 applied for visas.
“People are not coming here without intentions to find jobs,” Choudaha says of international graduate student populations.
POTENTIAL H-1B VISA REFORM COULD BE ‘DETRIMENTAL’ FOR U.S. BUSINESS SCHOOLS
Of course, now, President Donald Trump’s immigration reforms throws another unprecedented complication into the mix. It’s still unclear what, if anything, Trump will do to the H-1B program, but reports suggest that his administration is at least looking at current H-1B protocols as part of a broader attempt at immigration reform. It’s possible that the administration could change the program to make it easier for graduate students to stay in the U.S., lessening the ability of outsourcing firms to the vast majority of H1-B visas.
“Without knowing much about how the political climate affects H-1Bs, I can tell you that the career services folks we’ve talked to have been saying that their students are nervous, and they’ve been recommending that the students cultivate other options just in case something happens,” Transparent Career’s Marvinac says.
Choudaha shared similar sentiments about the general climate of increased nationalism and Trump’s “America first” rhetoric.
“The bigger issue now is the amount of uncertainty and the negative perception, which is changing among the students,” he explains. “It is not only going to hurt the students that are already here, but also the future students who may be applying this year or are planning on enrolling in the fall. It is going to hurt even the business schools. Despite having great brands and offering a great education, they will lose, along with employers who want to hire these graduates.”
Outsider perception of what’s happening within the U.S. could potentially be “detrimental” to U.S. business schools, Choudaha says. “It’s definitely one of the biggest setbacks, in terms of how enrollment will look in the fall of 2017,” he maintains. “They (business schools) are going through a somewhat tough time even recruiting domestic students, given the cost.”
COMMITMENT TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS REMAINS ‘UNCHANGED’
Duke Fuqua’s Dirks says it’s still too early to tell how potential changes to H-1B visa caps and international perceptions of the U.S. could affect the schools’ ability to attract international talent. “It’s completely speculative at this time,” Dirks contends. “It’s too soon to tell the degree to which it is going to have an impact in concrete and meaningful ways over the longer term.”
Dirks says she has been in contact with her “counterparts” at other business schools and while they might have to consider changing their approach to recruiting and placing international students, their commitment to that population hasn’t changed.
“It is certainly a topic we all are thinking about and talking about a lot — both within the Duke community and among our colleagues at other schools,” she says. “It is on our minds and hearts right now. But our commitment as a university is unchanged. We believe that students benefit from being educated among classmates and a community that is representative of the world.”
UNCLE SAM MIGHT NOT WANT INTERNATIONAL WORKERS, BUT SILICON VALLEY SURE DOES
Many tech companies have publicly voiced their commitment to hire qualified immigrants. In a public letter sent to President Trump last month, more than 100 of the largest tech firms shared their disapproval of Trump’s now halted executive order on immigration. Executives from such companies as Apple, Tesla, Airbnb, and Microsoft all signed the letter. Amazon’s name was not on the letter, but a federal judge in Seattle was the first to temporarily halt the ban and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco confirmed the ban should remain on hold.
According to data from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, 52% of corporate recruiters either plan to to hire (24%) business school graduates needing H-1B visa sponsorship or are willing to consider hiring (28%) those graduates. Technology was again the most likely industry to hire graduates in need of H-1B sponsorship at 66%. Finance (54%), consulting (53%), and manufacturing (51%) were the other industries planning on or considering hiring business school graduates that require H-1B sponsorship.
WHAT INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS CAN DO
Both Dirks and Choudaha encourage international students aiming to stay in the U.S. to start early and keep an open mind. Choudaha says two of the biggest mistakes international students make are not building a network early enough in their graduate school experience and not building an “effective” network. He says even though international students often have quantitative strengths, that’s not always enough if the network isn’t in place.
“They might have the best quantitative skills, but not all jobs are based on academic rank,” Choudaha explains. “It’s a mix of skills that especially business school graduates need to exhibit. It’s not just networking for the sake of networking, but being effective at it.”
Dirks says looking at big tech and consulting firms that have sponsored higher amounts of H-1B visas is a good starting point, but shouldn’t be an end-all, be-all list. “There is a natural desire for all incoming students to ask for the list of companies that are most likely to hire them,” Dirks says. But the reality, she adds, is that list is a “moving, breathing, living” entity. “It changes from year to year and changes based on business needs and what an individual student brings to the table.”
So Dirks is keeping an eye on small- and mid-sized companies that might not have sponsored an H-1B visa before. Sometimes, she explains, it might be an easier sell because those firms could have a specific need that an international MBA graduate could fill.
THE U.S. IS STILL THE ‘HEARTBEAT OF INNOVATION’
While the current climate is uncertain and could potentially create setbacks, Choudaha says the value proposition of the MBA for international students still remains strong largely because of the demand of talent from companies.
“These institutions want international talent,” he says. “They want to have that diverse experience for their students. These are strong business schools with excellent reputations in teaching and research and strong alumni networks. There are opportunities for anyone who becomes part of that network. And if the students can broaden their mindset and skill set, it will open a lot more opportunities while they are here.”
As for that American Dream? “The U.S. is still a place where immigrants and international talent find many opportunities of growing and succeeding,” Choudaha says. “It’s the heartbeat of innovation, and business schools are always looking for international talent.”
(See the following pages for more exclusive H-1B visa data from Transparent Career.)