Categorized | Job Hunting

Can Foreign Workers Still Find Good Jobs?

Posted on 15 June 2009

The International Worker Outlook

With layoffs hitting companies across the nation, people from abroad are having a tougher time obtaining standard employment in the United States. But in some markets, job seekers from abroad will have the advantage.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, more than 1.2 million legal and illegal immigrants now land in the U.S. each year. The number of immigrants living here has more than tripled since 1970, from 9.6 million to 28.4 million. Immigrants have more than doubled, from 4.7 percent of the U.S. population in 1970 to 10.4 percent in 2000.

What does the work situation look like for international job seekers? For candidates with the right skills (like marketing or senior executive management experience), there won’t be a problem. The less qualified foreign job seekers are going to have tougher times getting employment in the U.S., especially if they are asking for companies to make applications for appropriate work permits or visas. Companies are going to hesitate about relocating employees from abroad, since this is very costly.

Many foreign executives do well in the American corporate structure because of globalization and internationalization.

When considering hiring people from another country, companies have to make sure they have the appropriate papers in place and determine how an experience or education in a foreign country translates into an American work environment, says Harriet Hentges, Executive Vice President of United States Institute of Peace. Among the questions employers ask: What does a degree from another country mean? What are the schools like at this country, and how do they evaluate the job experience in comparison to the U.S.?

The International Picture

According to William Ward, Warehime Professor of Business Administration at Susquehanna University, immigrants don’t have trouble getting entry-level positions here. Of course, stories of people transitioning from working at burger restaurants to owning their own franchises are legendary.

Ward sees the job picture very good at the high level as well: “A lot of foreign executives do extremely well in the American corporate structure because of globalization and internationalization.” Varied cultural and managerial experiences are a real benefit in executive level jobs. At this level, employees can easily get work permits or visas for three to five years. Many can maintain their foreign citizenship. The mid-level market for international workers is hurting. People from China and India with quantitative skills once found a lot of work at “dot-com” companies, Ward reports, but not anymore. The mid-level management cuts at major corporations like Ford and Proctor and Gamble has not helped the picture, either.

What countries have the most employment success in the U.S.? Ward reports that European countries have greater success in high-level jobs–the Swiss, Germans, British, and French do extremely well here. Indians, Chinese, and Japanese used to excel in the mid-level positions.

At the low level, Hispanics, Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese take most of those jobs. The U.S. has an open border policy with Canadians; our economic linkages are the same, Ward told me. “Canadians are tougher on Americans working in Canada than Americans are on Canadians working down here, because we need them more than they need us,” he adds.

Identifying Core Competencies

Foreign workers should identify the personal strengths they can offer their specific market–it may be their ability to speak more than one language, Hentges reports. Obviously, command of English is vital, but second and third languages are crucial for companies that operate in different markets. The ability to explain previous experience and strengths in a way the domestic or U.S. employer can understand and translate is also important. An ability to identify where the company would be operating is imperative.

If a company needs specific knowledge or language skills, it may not be hard for foreign nationals to get a job here. In some markets, international job seekers will have the advantage. For example, companies breaking into Europe, Asia or Latin America markets will seek foreign expertise. Many high-tech firms are now marketing into countries abroad, Hentges concludes.

International job seekers must demonstrate their knowledge of the market, the company, and the culture at a desired workplace. They must demonstrate flexibility–bringing multiple skills to the environment, the ability to think cross culturally, and the willingness to adapt to new situations. Those who meet these criteria are likely to do well, even in a difficult job market.

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