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I'm a UK citizen about to start my penultimate year at university. Like most of my peers, I'm currently seeking as much experience as possible having done a summer internship in London for the past two summers.

I feel like I'm in a good position to get a summer internship next year in the United States, I'm mainly looking at New York/San Fransisco (I don't know if states are different when it comes to short term working visas).

I'm wondering, should I sort out getting the 'right to work' in the United States first before applying, or should I apply first, and guarantee I get a position before acquiring a visa.

My current thought process:

For getting a visa before applying:

  • When I've applied for summer internships in the UK before, all employers have first checked my right to work, therefore I feel if I don't have a visa before applying I won't even be allowed to begin the application process.

Against getting a visa before applying:

  • I'm still a student and therefore the money is tight, although it would be possible I don't want to have a visa without a job offer
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    Contact the visa issuing authority as they will be able to advise you correctly. – Solar Mike Jul 29 at 19:06
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    Also may be worth following up with you university's careers office (if it has one) since they may be able to facilitate and guide you through the non-trivial process of getting a visa to work in the US. – dwizum Jul 29 at 19:53
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    Most work visas in the US require some kind of sponsorship by the employer (this includes the J-1 internship visa I suspect you would be applying for), which not all companies are willing to do. If you have companies in mind you are planning to apply for, you may want to contact them and ask how they handle this. – Seth R Jul 29 at 20:17
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    Does your Uni have a department that helps organise interships/placements. They may be able to help you navigate this. I worked for a summer in the US on a J1 Visa. – scotty3785 Jul 30 at 12:34
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There's definitely a "check with a lawyer" flavor to this question. But assuming that's been done and the answer of "can you even do that as a private citizen w/ no job offer?" is "yes, but it's expensive", then here's my answer:

  • Learn what the timing is - any visa process takes a while. The US process is somewhat dependent on your country of origin, but also somewhat dependent on the political administration. Our current administration is not overly supportive of fast immigration, and recent changes to policy have really slowed things down. It's worth having a baseline for how long it is.

  • US immigration is at a Federal level (national), I have trouble seeing how one state could change the process vs. another. A bigger location issue is that any company sponsoring a work visa in the US has to prove that they can't easily hire a qualified citizen for the job. So places with fewer jobs and more qualified citizens are harder to get a work visa in than states with more jobs and less qualified candidates.

  • If the process is fast enough and easy enough - you might start interviews without it, and leave it open ended whether you're willing to pay for it. You could go with "I'm really eager to work here, and want to support it however I can...". If that doesn't work for the first month and you think companies are turning out down because you don't already have the right to work, then go the other route.

  • Another factor is that many companies (at least in tech) will pay relocation. Local candidates are more exciting than foreign ones currently going to school in a non-US country, because the relocation is much cheaper. That's other place where you may be able to offer your $$ (I'll cover my relocation) - and yet you could ask that they DO cover your work visa. Relocation is a little bit easier to do on the cheap - as you can get creative with plane flights, storing your stuff, and getting roommates to defray costs. Where as with visas, the application fees and lawyers are harder to avoid. I'd bet you could cover your own relocation for significantly less, if you're ready to be frugal, than you would spend for getting a visa filed.

  • There is an extra burden on the employer for sponsoring the visa of a foreign national such that a lot of companies won't even do it, especially for an intern. The ones that do should be familiar with how it works and I would expect be able to help OP navigate the process. – Seth R Jul 29 at 21:32

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