Discussing work authorization during an interview

Job search is nearly always a very stressful process. For international students in addition to the anxiety around making a positive impression, interviewing, negotiating, there is the issue of work authorization. Many students wonder about when they should be discussing their work authorization status with a potential employer – in the job application or during the interview or after they have been offered the role? Unfortunately, there is no one answer to this question that would apply to the multitude of scenarios that international students might encounter. However, to help you get started with thinking about how you might want to address this with an employer here are 3 commonly asked questions to consider:

What is the process of hiring international students?

If you are an international student pursuing a degree program on an F1 visa you will likely have access to CPT and/or OPT work authorization. To work in the US beyond the timeline allocated under CPT or OPT you will need a work visa. There can be different options available to you such as H1B, O1, J1, etc. To figure out what would be the best category for you to engage in some independent research. Find out as much information on each visa type and requirements as possible including any deadlines and associated fees for each visa type. You can contact International Students and Scholars Services and they might be able to connect you with the right resources. Employers who have not previously worked with international hires might not know about the steps involved with acquiring work authorization. You can help them navigate the process if you are well educated about the details.

How to answer the question of whether you will now or in the future need work authorization?

You might encounter this question at different points during the interview process. Commonly individuals come across this in the initial job application stage. If this is a required question to apply, you will need to answer it honestly. You might also get asked some variation of this question during an interview. Here are a few tips on how you might want to address this question:

      • If you are uncomfortable answering any question during an interview you can communicate that directly to the interviewer. Alternately you can answer by highlighting your skills and knowledge that would make you a perfect fit for the position instead of refusing to answer the question directly. However, it is important to weigh the benefits of taking these approaches over any potential consequences. The employer might perceive this in a positive light and consider you to be assertive and unafraid to take risks. It is also possible that they feel this depicts a lack of transparency on your part.
      • If you choose to answer the question you will need to be truthful about it. Do not lie! If you have work authorization now through OPT but will need the company to petition for work authorization potentially in the future, then communicate that.
      • It is illegal for employers to ask questions related to candidates’ national origin or race, but they are permitted to ask about work authorization. You can refer to the following resource to learn about topics that employers are not permitted to enquire about: https://www.eeoc.gov/prohibited-employment-policiespractices#pre-employment_inquiries

    Regulations might vary between states and it is worth checking the specific laws in the state where you will be interviewing.

Do I need to self-disclose if an employer has not enquired about my work authorization?

This depends on the status of your work authorization. If you have work authorization (such as CPT/OPT) and do not need the employer to petition on your behalf now or in the future, you do not have to discuss your status. However, if you will need an employer to file for work authorization for you at some point then it is a good idea to bring it up before you come onboard. If you don’t disclose and later learn they will need to seek work authorization for you, this might have a serious negative impact including but not necessarily limited to trust issues between you and your employers. Having said that, at what stage you discuss your work authorization depends on the situation. You can do it after you have been made an offer or before if you need to bring it up in the context of negotiating a start date. You can also discuss it sooner if you feel like you have made a dazzling impression on the interviewing committee.

Remember that your international status is not an obstacle, but it is an asset. You have experienced a different culture and navigated the higher education landscape successfully in the U.S. This gives you a unique perspective that any employer should value. Focus on this aspect and how it would allow you to contribute effectively in the position, regardless of when you discuss your status as an international student.

By Tithi Basu Mallik
Tithi Basu Mallik Graduate Student Career Programs and Services Graduate Assistant Tithi Basu Mallik