Hiring International MBAs: A Guide for US Employers

Columbia Business School’s commitment to a global perspective is reflected in its ability to attract the best international talent to campus. Students currently enrolled have experienced more than 50 different international markets and speak the languages of many more. Over 40 percent of the graduating class holds a non-US passport.

Employers continue to seek the value of the Columbia MBA by hiring both non-US and American students who have been immersed in the international marketplace by living, studying, and working across territories and cultures. With this exposure to many markets, international and domestic Columbia Business School MBAs are of particular value to employers dealing with the nuances of the global marketplace.

Although not intended to replace specialized, legal advice from an immigration attorney, we hope this guide provides a clearer overview of the recruitment options available to your firm as you seek to benefit from this international perspective.

Recruiting Process for International Students in the USA

International students at Columbia Business School typically hold F-1 (foreign student) or J-1 (exchange visitor student) visas. Both F-1 and J-1 visas allow students to work in the United States before and after graduation with minimal effort and investment by the hiring company. 

There are a number of other work visas available to foreign nationals, including the H1-B visa. In addition, visas are available to citizens of a number of countries that have special agreements with the US government. Advantages of these special agreements can include lower processing fees, no quotas, and faster processing times.

Working with the various visa options may seem complex, but the Career Management Center team is here to help employers navigate the process.

F-1 (Foreign Student) Visa

The hiring process for F-1 interns is quick, free, and easy for employers. Students with F-1 status can work for the summer and/or during select academic semesters through Curricular Practical Training (CPT), which is processed and issued for free by Columbia University’s International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO). All employers need to do is to extend an offer and provide a letter stating the name of their company, their work site address, and the intern’s dates of employment.

For full-time positions, F-1 students have access to up to 12 months of work authorization directly related to their major area of study through Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT requires no effort from employers as no full-time job offer is necessary when a student submits an OPT application. While in OPT status, the graduate can transition to another visa type, such as H1-B.

J-1 (Exchange Visitor Student) Visa

Employers do not have to file any forms or pay fees on behalf of students with J-1 status, as this group has access to up to 18 months of work authorization through the University’s academic training program. This authorization can be granted for employment before or after completion of the student’s program of study and allows a student to apply knowledge obtained in an academic program to a practical work experience. The employment must be directly related to the student’s field of study.

Academic training authorization is granted at no cost by Columbia University’s International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO). This process is free and straightforward for employers, and requires a letter from the hiring employer stating the employer’s name, supervisor’s name, work site address, the student’s dates of employment, position description, and salary. The ISSO will work with employers to ensure the academic training request relates to the student’s program of study.

H1-B Visa

The H1-B is an employer-sponsored temporary work visa for foreign nationals employed in a “specialty occupation,” which includes any position that requires an MBA. In most cases an H1-B provides up to six years of work authorization. There is a limit to the number of H1-B visas granted annually. The H1-B visa process has several steps as listed on the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website (www.uscis.gov). Since this is a temporary work visa, employers are not required to document or prove that a citizen from another country will not take a job from a qualified American.

Other Visa Options

By special agreement with the US government, citizens of the following countries have access to additional work visa options:

STEM Designation

Columbia Business School’s MBA program is now STEM-designated. This is effective immediately for all MBA and EMBA students who graduated in May 2019 and later.

This change is important. The STEM-designated degree affords international students – roughly 40 percent of our MBA population – the opportunity to work in the U.S. for up to three years under an extended Optional Practical Training (OPT) work permit. Moreover, with technology and data analytics critically affecting all aspects of business – everything from how we invest and advertise to how new innovations in the fields of transportation, healthcare, communication, artificial intelligence, energy and more are brought to market – the knowledge and skills that MBAs need to thrive in today's marketplace have changed. The formal STEM designation is evidence of our commitment to providing these types of knowledge and skills to our graduates. It recognizes the many strides our faculty have made to infuse technology, data science and analytics lessons more robustly throughout our curriculum; a trend that will continue in the near future.


We hope that this has helped clarify a process that is often confusing and fraught with misconceptions. We look forward to supporting you as you hire international and domestic Columbia MBAs across markets. Please reach out to Michael De Lucia, director of international and MS career management or Vyju Manian, associate director, for additional information.