Untapped Talent: Why Your Company Should Open Internships to International Students

Written by: Brady Drake

Samantha Gust | Director – Career Development Center, Minnesota State University Moorhead

Internships are a wonderful thing.

They provide students with an opportunity to put what they’ve learned in the classroom to use, develop career-specific skills, gain industry knowledge, grow their professional networks, and make sure the path they’ve chosen is the right one before they ever walk across the stage at graduation.

For employers, internships are a perfect way to develop robust hiring pipelines, introduce fresh ideas to the company, increase productivity in a relatively cost-effective way, and provide opportunities for your professional team to develop leadership and mentorship skills by working with student interns.

In the eyes of Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) and other local universities, it’s a win-win for both parties. The only problem? There’s a group of talented, engaged, highly educated students that are being overlooked by companies seeking to fill internships— international students.

Earlier this semester, when working with a group of international students preparing for internships, they shared stories of the challenges they face. One described a position description that said the company has a policy of only hiring persons who will not require sponsorship for employment visa status in the future (e.g. H-1B) and to not submit your resume for an interview if you will, in the future, require sponsorship for employment visa status. Another talked about being turned down for interviews when the company learned they were an international student because the company didn’t think they had the resources to handle all the paperwork.

These students’ stories are ones we hear all too often.

There’s a common misconception that hiring international students for internships is a hassle. Many believe that sponsorship is required and with sponsorship comes legal fees, paperwork, and regulations that can be hard to navigate. Thankfully, that is simply not the case. At the end of the day, hiring international students for internships is just as easy as hiring domestic students.

We want to break down some of the most common misconceptions, questions, and concerns we hear, hoping more employers will open their doors to our international students seeking internships. The following are questions employers often have about international students and internships.

How many international students are there in the Fargo-Moorhead Community?

Here at MSUM, we’re home to over 150 international students from more than 40 countries including Ethiopia, Canada, Japan, Germany, Brazil, and Nepal. These students are majoring in programs such as computer science, nursing, biochemistry and biotechnology, business, project management, finance, and psychology, all of which either require or recommend students engage in an internship or other experiential learning experience prior to graduation.

When we add in the international student population from North Dakota State University and Concordia College, the Fargo-Moorhead community welcomes over 1,200 students from overseas. That’s a lot of students and a lot of underutilized talent waiting for an opportunity to shine.

Those of us working in university career centers have seen employers struggling to fill internship roles and by opening up your opportunities to international students, you will increase your potential applicant pool by quite a bit.

Aren’t there a lot of requirements, costs, and paperwork associated with hiring an international student as an intern?

The short answer to that question is no. The only cost associated is related to the time and effort put into interviewing, hiring, training, and supervising the student intern, the same as hiring a domestic student for the same role.

In terms of paperwork, employers hiring international students for internships will have to produce an offer letter or a letter confirming the internship, but no additional requirements, paperwork, or fees are needed from the employer. Everything else is handled by the student and their university.

From the student perspective, once they have been offered an internship, they’ll submit an online application to their university and provide the dates on the experience, the organization’s name and address, their job title, and a detailed job description.

How will employers benefit by opening internship positions to international students?

As previously mentioned, one of the main benefits of including international students in your internship requirement process is the increase in the talent pool. We hear firsthand the challenges employers are facing when it comes to filling positions. By opening the doors to all students, you have the potential to engage more students and increase applications.

Hiring international student interns also increases your company’s diversity. According to InsightGlobal, 83% of Gen Z stated that an employer’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is a significant factor when choosing where to apply and work while 75% said they would reconsider applying to a company if they felt their diversity and inclusion efforts were not satisfactory. Additionally, McKinsey & Company found that companies with high rankings in diversity, equity and inclusion were 36% more profitable than their competitors. By simply providing equal opportunity to all students, regardless of their country of origin, you could be making a huge impact on your company’s success.

International students also bring a global perspective. Many of these students are fluent not only in English but also their native language. They also have knowledge of international business practices, markets, differing company cultures, and more.

Lastly, these students have the courage and grit that employers are looking for in new hires. Imagine leaving your home country for four years to pursue an education where you know no one. Being able to succeed in an entirely new environment is challenging and these students have done it. They’re prepared to take on new opportunities and are excited to put the skills they’ve developed to use.

If an employer is ready to start promoting their internship to international students, as well as domestic, how would they do that?

Each of the four-year universities in the Fargo-Moorhead area use a platform called Handshake, a modern platform for college recruiting, to connect our students and alumni with employers from across the globe. Through Handshake, employers will have access to features including managing all campus recruitment efforts, updating job postings, viewing applicants, and more using Handshake’s mobile experience.

Once a company creates a Handshake profile on joinhandshake.com, they’re able to connect with any university who uses the platform, including MSUM, NDSU, and Concordia. Once you’re connected, you can begin posting jobs for all student and alumni job seekers to see.

Now that those common questions and concerns have been addressed, we here at MSUM hope businesses will welcome our international student population with open arms by providing impactful and engaging internship opportunities.

Ready to start recruiting?

Email me at [email protected] to get started.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.