Fast Company: “How, Why, And When To Share Your Immigration Status On Job Interviews”

by Joseph McKeown

In the current political environment, as politicians and government officials debate the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the H-1B visa, and whether to switch to a “merit-based” immigration system, many immigrants may be afraid to discuss their immigration status with potential employers. Although Ximena Hartsock, an immigrant from Chile and business owner, encourages immigrants to use discretion when talking about their immigration status, at the same time she believes they should “own their immigrant experiences with pride.” Writing in Fast Company, she provides tips for immigrants to navigate the interview process.

Pre-Interview. First off, while employers are allowed to ask if the applicant is authorized to work in the US, employers may not inquire specifically about immigration status or national origin. Hartsock recommends avoiding any voluntary disclosure of immigration status pre-interview, so as not to give human resources personnel any reason to discard an immigrant’s application or resume, even if doing so would be illegal on their end. For online applications where it asks for information about the applicant’s work authorization in the US, Hartsock recommends that applicants leave it blank, or, if required, note something simple, such as,  “I have an H-1B that I could transfer.” 

The Interview. During the interview, seemingly casual questions such as, “So where are you from?” or other legally questionable inquires can be deflected. Instead of starting the interview by talking about immigration status, Hartsock recommends that immigrants sell themselves first:  

Focus on your STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] skills, your internships, your emotional intelligence, that artificial intelligence thesis you wrote–whatever it is that you bring to the table. If you get a positive signal from the decision maker, share your immigrant status near the end of the interview.
Whatever you do, don’t treat your H-1B or OPT status as a negative–wrap your immigration status into your larger story. People know that many immigrants come to this country with little money, no connections, language barriers, little family support, and other disadvantages. Your approach to surmounting those obstacles is valuable experience! You’re willing to take risks and strike out independently. Chances are, being here isn’t something you take for granted, and you’re interviewing because you want to be here and build a legacy.

Post Interview. While it’s true that some employers may not want to sponsor an H-1B change-of-employer petition for an applicant, or have hesitations about hiring a recent graduate on Optional Practical Training, Hartsock reminds immigrants, especially those working in STEM fields, that they have a lot going for them. Some additional tips post interview:

  • Know your value. If the organization doesn’t feel you’re valuable enough for them to assist in the immigration process, do you want to work there anyway?
  • Know your worth. Don’t put up with a company that tries to (potentially illegally) negotiate a lower salary because of immigration status. Look for a company that pays commensurate with the applicant’s skills.   
  • They need you. There is a severe deficit of STEM workers in the US, and since international students account for the majority of the STEM graduate degrees earned at US universities, employers are eagerly looking for qualified applicants, no matter their immigration status.
  • Have faith. It’s tough for employers to find good employees (staffing is a billion dollar global business). “Have some faith in your skill set,” she writes.

Above all, Hartsock says: “Don’t feel handicapped by your immigration status, and do not let it become a bargaining chip or source of disempowerment in your career search.”