Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
12th Oct 2012

Part 2: Internships an increasingly popular gateway to career and immigration opportunities

In the first of this two-part series

, we considered the types of students that might benefit most from an internship abroad. In this second ICEF Monitor article, we profile the particular needs these interns have, as well as concrete ways in which educational institutions are helping them to achieve their goals.

Preparing to intern abroad

For a successful international internship, the key ingredient is preparation, says Anthony Christie, chief marketing officer at Level 3 Communications. “While there is a certain allure to international study or international work, there is a lot of work that must be done before that can be realised.” Perhaps the most important form of preparation is thorough research about the opportunities open to students who want to intern outside of their home country. Many students will miss these opportunities simply because they are not aware of them. A study by the German “Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration,” conducted among international students in various countries, found that between a third and a half of students across countries felt insufficiently informed about the possibilities for work in their country of study. Three quarters of students surveyed felt that information about these opportunities was difficult to access. There are various ways to help students learn about the opportunities open to them in terms of international internships. For example, the “Foundation for Global Scholars” recently organised a “speed-mentoring” session with Colorado University in Boulder. This event brought together students and veterans of international business to discuss how to plan and pursue international internships and careers. Not only does this help prepare students, it can also serve to lure prospective students to CU-Boulder. Given the job climate these days, when parents and students are choosing a school, they are not only looking at what kind of education they can receive, but also at what that education will do for them (i.e., "What kind of job can I get once I have a degree in business management from this university?"). So if a school has programmes that support students with global internship experiences, this might give them a reason to choose that school over another one.

Work abroad visas

For students who would benefit from an international internship, information about the opportunities available to them is crucial; just as important, however, is information about the legal restrictions they may face in other countries. Depending on the visa used to travel to another country, students will face different restrictions with respect to the kind of work they can do at their destination. The US J-1 visa, a visa typically issued to young people travelling to the States for temporary work and cultural exchange, grants very different privileges than the F-1 visa, the visa reserved for students. And the US Department of Labor's definition of “volunteer” work may differ significantly from the meaning that many students associate with that word: for the DOL, “volunteering” has little to do with whether the intern receives payment or not – what matters most is whether the company employing the intern benefits from the work of the intern, in which case the intern is not considered a “volunteer,” and must be paid for their work. An intern who occupies a position that legally requires payment – and does so without the appropriate visa – violates their immigration status, and risks deportation from the US. This information becomes particularly critical in light of a recent announcement by the DOL that it will be enforcing these regulations more strictly.

Choosing a quality internship

In recent years, the internship industry has come under increasing criticism as cases of exploitation and high profile lawsuits have drawn public attention. For the right kind of student, international internships can confer priceless benefits; however, students should be careful about choosing an internship that will help them achieve their goals. In a recent article published by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the coordinator of the ILO’s Youth Employment Programme, Gianni Rosas, describes some of the hallmarks of a quality internship:

  • Meaningful work: the work the intern does should serve some clearly apparent, valuable purpose
  • Practice in useful skills: the tasks the intern is asked to complete should allow them to practice themselves in skills that have value across occupations
  • Opportunities to network: the intern should be given opportunities to meet members of the business or sector
  • Thoughtful training and guidance: the internship provider should consciously and purposefully provide the intern with opportunities to learn and develop
  • Stipends to support interns: the intern should receive a stipend sufficient to cover the basic costs necessary to support themselves

The final requirement takes on additional importance in light of a recent study by the NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) that investigated the relationship between internships and job offers in the US. The study found that the only job applicants whose internship experience gave them an advantage were those who had been paid for their internship. Applicants who had completed unpaid internships were on average just as successful as applicants with no internship experience at all.

Concrete support for work or internships abroad

For students who want to intern abroad, information about opportunities, awareness about legal restrictions, and guidelines for quality internships are key ingredients for a successful experience. However, there are also many more specific ways in which institutions and organisations are supporting students who want to undertake internships abroad, such as granting course credits. In 2009/2010 alone, over 20,000 US students were granted credit for work or internships abroad. And in Japan, a recent report revealed that 74% of surveyed institutions have certified course credits for job experiences. Other institutions, such as Clemson University in the US, are actively engaged in increasing the number of internships available on campus. Until 2020, Clemson university plans to create 500 internships on campus. These on-campus internships are especially attractive for international students who are studying in the US under the F-1 visa, which restricts students to on-campus employment. To help their students intern abroad, some universities have chosen to partner with internship organisations, companies that specialise in arranging internships for students abroad. Due to the preexisting arrangements between educator and organisation, students who are placed in internships abroad through these organisations are usually able to gain credit for their internship more smoothly.

A growing industry

As the opportunities increase for graduates to work around the world, and as international experience becomes more of a requirement than a mark of distinction, international internships may very well grow in importance. Educational institutions and education service providers would be well-advised to follow this trend.

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