Unbound

Foreign B-school grads left out in the cold in U.S. job market

... Fortune:

....28-year-old Shekhar had come to the U.S. 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 … 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 an American school for an MBA, Shekhar 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 for Strategy&, as soon as his Dutch work permit comes through.

“It’s been frustrating, I will be honest,” he concedes.“I learned everything in the U.S. I should add value to the economy of the U.S.” His student work visa, which 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 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 an 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, but a recent Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) report of MBA employers suggests it is a significant problem.

For foreign MBA grads, a harsh American job market

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 GMAC. Another 25% said they have no objection to foreign hires but had no specific plans to make an 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 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. Companies also cited concerns related to security clearances and cultural differences to explain their refusal to hire international MBAs.

For international students who attend European business schools, the situation is even worse. GMAC found that even fewer firms—just 23%—plan to offer a job to an international MBA graduate. But the challenges loom larger in the U.S. because of the much greater number of international students enrolled in American business schools.

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