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Ask HN: How should I apply for U.S. jobs as a non-resident?
75 points by imalolz on July 25, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments
I'm a software developer living and working abroad. I'm not an American citizen, but have lived in the U.S. for a better part of a decade as a student and obtained an advanced engineering degree from a top school while there.

Recently I've been thinking of applying for jobs in the US - the incredible variety of both startups and established companies seem like great places to learn and build oneself as a professional.

Probably relevant - I don't have a work VISA or a green card (I did apply for one), and I'm married + baby. I have several questions:

1. Where to start? This is a vague question, I know, but I'm looking for input from someone who'd be considering non-resident applicants: the checklist I should follow, planning ahead, etc.

2. Am I being realistic? I mean, as far as interviewing goes, this won't be simple to either side, even if I'm considered as a valid applicant.

3. Any other advice that's relevant to myself and others who might be thinking about or in the midst of doing just this?


I don't know from experience, but since I've considered doing the same I'll write down what I know.

Assuming you aren't a Canadian citizen, the usual way is to apply for several companies who are willing to sponsor a H-1B visa and get an offer from one of them. Until a few years ago the number of applicants used to be way over the H-1B visa cap, so you had to go thru a lottery even if your application was OK. This was the number one reason I never even applied.


But recently the number of applicants has sharply decreased and is below the cap, so if you get the offer and pass all the requirements (have a college degree, etc) you should be able to get it.

One problem with H-1B is that if you lose or quit your job you have to get another job within 30 days. Personally I'd avoid early-stage startups because of that rule: I wouldn't want to be in a position to find a job that quickly.

Another possible problem is that your spouse can get a visa but cannot work (until you both get a green card, which might take a long time).

You should check out the websites of companies you'd like to work for and see if they do the H-1B thing. Also, check the list of top visa sponsors:


I hope this helps.

>> you have to get another job within 30 days. <<

I don't think you get any days at all, you have to get the visa approved for transfer BEFORE you quit your existing job otherwise you're out of status. I strongly recommend anybody planning to do this to check with a lawyer. According to what I found on the net (I am not a lawyer):

  Under current law, H1B visa has no stipulated grace
  period in the event the employer-employee relationship
  ceases to exist.
(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H-1B_visa )

  the applicant becomes out of status when the applicant
  loses his or her job. The laid off H-1B worker will be
  considered out of status even though he has valid H-1B 
  visa in his passport or valid I-94 card."
(from http://faq.visapro.com/H1B-Visa-FAQ12.asp )

This is law. But in practice if you will get new job in reasonable time - you should be ok. But of course - this is grey area and you'd better secure new job before leaving old one.

Thanks for the correction.

From what I've been able to gather:

* there is no lottery. If you apply after the cap has been reached you're out of luck (not sure about edge cases).

* if you were to apply right now, you would be able to start working no earlier than October 1st. After that you could start within a few weeks of application if your employer pays for expedited service. But you don't want to apply much later than autumn either; last year the cap was reached in January: http://1.usa.gov/H1Bcap11 The current batch is at 1/3rd: http://1.usa.gov/H1Bcap

* I've heard people say the market is more "hot", because of the potential bubble, which may mean they run out faster this year. On the other hand I've stats that say total investment is the same as last year, it's just more concentrated.

>>Another possible problem is that your spouse can get a visa but cannot work (until you both get a green card, which might take a long time).<<

Your spouse qualifies for H4, a dependent visa, based on your H1 visa. However, they can find sponsors for their own H1.

How is it different for Canadians?

Canadians and Mexicans can apply for a NAFTA Work Visa (TN) that is simpler to get. You can apply for 1 to 3 years and you only need a letter from the employer validating that you have been accepted to work in a US company.

You also need to have some documents proving that you are qualified for the role. This includes diplomas, license, university transcripts, and a resume with relevant work experience.

Are specific parts of the transcript such as GPA or individual course grades of any importance, or is the completion of a degree + relevant courses in your specific field enough?

They generally ask for the full academic transcript (which has grades in it). Btw do not be worried if you don't have stellar grades/GPA - USCIS doesn't care about that. Your immigration lawyers just need to make a case that your education plus work exp (if any) is relevant to the job the company is hiring for.

Canadians can typically apply for a TN classification, which is easier and cheaper to get.

I watched non-US students and post docs battle this all through my time in graduate school. Our system here in the US is completely backwards when it comes to training, and then keeping, the world's brightest. Country of citizenship plays a role, as do soft skills that "mesh" with whatever US business culture you want to enter. If I was trying to do this, my introduction email letter would be along the lines of:

"Hi, I'm [name] and I want to work for [specific person/department] at [company]. I earned my [schooling] at [top school] and those [multiple # of years] are like gravity pulling my family to the US. [Something about returning to stay and having my baby grow up in the US]. I know that the visa process can be a pain, so let's chat about working for [company] and clearing the paperwork out of the way."

An introduction like this makes it clear that: 1. You're comfortable with colloquial English 2. You're here to stay and build 3. You have a family and aren't going to walk the aisle for a green card. 4. The visa process is one you're familiar with and will attack.

Good advice for all candidates to any job in the US, whether you are a citizen or not, is to get your resume in the hands of people that do hiring, and not human resources.

To answer your original question, you want to get an H1-B visa. This will require the extensive cooperation of your prospective employer, and is far likelier at a large, established business with established immigration processes. Depending on the marketability of your skills, though, it is a perfectly realistic thing to do.

But more broadly, one way or another the US is going to experience a massive fiscal contraction over the next few years, and holding down a job here might become difficult. Why the US in particular? (I'm in the US on an H1-B, and married to a USian whose parents need care, so I'm here for a while, but definitely worried about what the US is going to look like in five years time.) (Yes, I'm going for the marriage visa.)

To get first H-1b you need established company (once you are here you can change employers much easier). Most startups will not qualify due:

a) revenue - they have to have positive cash flow showing constant income allowing them to pay for your work (you have to be full time employed for H-1b visa). This can be proved by contracts and tax returns.

b) number of citizens/perm residents employees. I heard this and I bet this is not a law, but probably a rule - USCIS looks for 5 "local" employees per 1 foreigner.

c) Time between filling papers and getting into US will take at least 6 months. Add some preparation time for lawyer. Startups usually can't wait that long. This may be mitigated if you can work for this company remotely.

You can go my route - I obtained first visa with small company by working for them for 2 years remotely and then asking them to sponsor a visa. I paid all fees. Once got there I found better local job. H-1b visa can be transferred to another employer and this process takes only 2 weeks with premium ($1000) processing.

Another route - apply for a job in big corporation. These companies often have processes allowing them to wait 6 month and pay all associated fees if you are good enough. Again, this big company can be just first bridge to get there, 'cos right after you got there - it is much easier to get new/better job.

Btw it's illegal to make an employee pay the USCIS H-1B visa fees (USCIS website clearly mentions that the visa fees strictly has to be borne by the employer). I'm surprised that small company made you pay the visa fees. Now if they made you pay only the legal fees for the immigration attorney, that might still be legal.

@c I believe the expedited service only takes two to three weeks, but I don't know how much other paperwork is involved that might add up to 6 months.

You are correct. But You can't start work before October 1st. Since application are being accepted from April 1st (and you'd better apply in first day) - there is 6 month gap.

If you're fresh out of college (even with an advanced degree, i.e. PhD) and don't have much in terms of industry experience, you might find that some employers are not willing to go to the effort of sponsoring you for a H1-B.

An alternative, short-term solution, is to apply for a J1 internship visa. If you are a student or if you graduated in the last 12 months, you are eligible to work as an intern for up to 12 months, after which you must return to your home country.

It's worth noting that you would have to work as an intern, so you might not get paid as much as a full employee, but it is possible to change your visa status at the end of your internship if your home country states that it doesn't require you to return.

This means that if a company isn't willing to sponsor you for a H1-B because you're unproven, you can do an internship for a trial period and if you make yourself indispensable, they might be more willing to sponsor you afterwards.

It's a bit of an ugly workaround, but in theory it works! (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, but this is an avenue I have been researching a lot recently and I believe that what I have said is true. Do your own research before committing to anything)

It depends a lot where you are from and what citizenship do you have.

If you are from Canada, some countries in the UE and a few others, it is pretty easy. You can even apply for the work permission when arriving in the USA.

For other countries, you have to find a job an go through the H1-B process (expensive for the company) and that can take a few months. Waiting for the green card will take even longer (4 or 5 years).

So most people that I know that came to the USA, they got a job in a large company (microsoft, etc) that applied for their H1-B. After arriving to the US, they applied for the green card themselves.

hope it helps..

Can you elaborate on applying to work permission when arriving to the US? From what I knew you ned a visa before arriving to the US.

Just be upfront about your situation in your cover letter. It'll save everyone time. Put it in your first introductory paragraph.

From my limited exposure, it does seem like most companies are willing to sponsor for the right candidate. Even small startups seem to have the capability to do so.

One thing to keep in mind is relocation costs. Larger companies will often help with this. Smaller companies might expect you to carry this burden yourself. You should figure out the cost and figure if you can cover it - if not, this is something else you should be upfront about.

I just went through the H-1B process and moved to USA in the beginning of this year. I'm not an American citizen obviously and I also studied in a university outside America.

My answers to your questions:

1. Where to start?

All major tech companies at this point would be willing to sponsor H-1Bs for promising candidates. Very early-stage startups will be hesitant to sponsor them (it's expensive both in terms of money and time). So try interviewing with companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, LinkedIn.

2. Am I being realistic?

Well I can't speak to your CS skills but considering that you claim to have an advanced degree from a top school in USA, I don't see why you would have problems interviewing and getting a job.

3. Other advice

For the past couple of years (since the financial crisis), the no. of H-1B applicants have reduced drastically and hence there are fewer applicants than the per-year H-1B cap. This is great news - all you've to do is meet the visa requirements, get a job offer from a good company, and let the company sponsor your visa, and you're done. This wasn't the situation a few years back when there used to be a flood of applications within hours after the application process was opened (usually on Apr 1 of every year).

But you still have a small issue - applications open in April and the earliest you can travel to USA is in Oct of that year. So you've to think about the timing issues and see if your employer is willing to wait for you for that long. Generally this is not a problem with big companies since they're always hiring and they can always fit you in. It all depends on how good a candidate you are and how desperate the company is for you really.

Are you considering just on site jobs? You may try to work remotely. I work like that without any visa for many years. It takes a bit longer to find a contract but it works very well for me.

H5 visa is good option too. You have all rights as normal USA citizen and no restrictions.

It lasts for 3y and can be extended for another 3y (I'm not sure what happens after 6y total..).

If you are unemployed for 45days visa will terminate (and you need to leave USA), but renews automatically when you get a new employment (in 3y period).

See more here: http://www.kateraynor.com/z-visa/h5-visa.html

My bad. Thx for info!

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