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I have heard cautionary tales about how difficult (and expensive) it is for US companies to sponsor a European professional for a legal working permit, but I would like to hear from a more reputable source like the Stack Exchange crowd.

How hard is it for a European IT professional to get a job in the USA?

My particular case is the one of a Spanish videogame developer currently working in a small Spanish studio looking to go work in a country with a more seasoned videogame industry, but the general answer for any European Union national IT professional is welcome as well.

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    Spain is a member of the European Union, the Eurozone and the Schengen Area, answers for Spain will be a lot different than, for example, answers for Croatia or Switzerland. Even answers for countries that belong to all three unions may differ, each member state have different bilateral agreements with the US. – yannis May 24 '12 at 23:12
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    The trick is getting Permanent Resident status. This can get you started: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permanent_residence_%28United_States%29 It's not too easy unless you were to marry a US citizen. – jfrankcarr May 25 '12 at 4:12
  • Yannis: You are right. I clarified my question specifying EU nationals. jfrakcarr: Thanks for the link, it's very helpful. Additionally, I would like to know how willing are IT (or videogame) companies to undertake the EB process for IT (or videogame) professionals. – Ricardo Sanchez-Saez May 25 '12 at 9:48
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    @rsanchezsaez - It depends a lot on the company and it's culture. I do see a number of companies sponsoring Indian citizens because they already have a lot of Indians working for them. People from other countries, not as much. – jfrankcarr May 25 '12 at 11:59
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    Please Note: Visas and permanent resident are VERY different!! I went thru both! – Michael Durrant May 25 '12 at 15:57
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You are really asking two questions here:

1: How hard is for an european IT professional to get a job in the USA?

Same as anywhere else. Depends on regional factors, industry, your skills and level of experience and - most importantly - what connections you have.

2: Visas and work permits

I started down that road a few years ago. Gave up as the red tape was just killing me. Also, the idea of basically being indentured to my employer for 5 years seemed less and less appealing. I hear they have loosened that up a bit though.

The H1B work permit and green-card quotas for employment-based immigration gets wildly over-subscribed each year so you need both luck and timing. The H1B application window opens April 1 so you need to have your application ready and in before then to even have a chance and it'll still be a lottery since every year the number of applications will exceed the quota on the first day already.

For a green-card, the waiting period is measured in years for EB3 (professional/employment based immigration) so unless you secure an H1B work permit (under the dual intent model) before applying for a green-card, you'll need to find an employer who can sponsor you with the promise to hire you in 6+ years from now (not super-easy). It can't be a hollow promise either as the employment will be follow up on by the government and if it turns out that the job is not bona-fide, you can get your green-card revoked and be deported.

Depending on the situation, your employer might also have to obtain a certification from the department of labor where they have to demonstrate that they are unable to find an American to hire for your intended role. Securing this is very dependent on where in the US you are and what industry you are in. Finding a certain skill-set might be very easy in one place but not in another. Regardless, your employer will be making a sizable investment in you, both in time and effort and you will, likewise, be very dependent on that employer for a number of years so unless you have connections or know some potential employers, it might not be that easy to get the required support.

As for everything else in the US, this is not something that you will want to do yourself There are lawyers specializing in immigration and either you or, preferable, your employer will need to retain one to navigate the maze of red tape, forms and bureaucracy that is US immigration.

  • Thanks for the detailed answer. The intention of my question was actually 'How difficult will be to find a company willing to help you with the 2. part of your answer?'. I infer from your answer that finding a company that would be ready to do that would be quite difficult. Another idea comes to mind: Maybe it's easier if you are hired in a multinational company, you start working for them in a less immigration-restrictive country, and then relocate to the US. Could that be right? – Ricardo Sanchez-Saez May 25 '12 at 18:26
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    @rsanchezsaez Since the process of bringing a foreigner into the US for work is more difficult than hiring an American, the employer will need to have some incentive to do so. It's impossible to give any quantifiable answer on "how hard" it would be. Things that make it easier are: do you know or have a personal relationship with the employer? Do you have skills and/or experiences that a prospective employer can't easily find locally? – pap May 28 '12 at 7:17
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A view from the employer's perspective: I have a few really interesting candidates in Europe, that we'd love to bring to the US, but it has become so hard and frustrating that we have almost given up. H1B is almost not an option anymore since the chances of winning the H1B lottery less is than 30% for 2016.

If you have strong academic credentials (peer reviewed publications, Ph.D, invented toast) or an outstanding business record you can try for O visa. If the employer has a European subsidiary, you can start working there for a year and then try an intercompany transfer using an L visa.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a laywer so this may be all wrong, if you want to be sure talk to a real one

DISCLAIMER: Before you talk to a real one, do some research about the process (https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/immigrate/immigrant-process.html https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/general/all-visa-categories.html) and about the lawyer him/herself. Not all lawyers are equal.

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I had a j-1 via, then a h1b (professional, 3 year) then a H1B extension.

Finally a green card! What did it take?

Actually just a good lawyer who know what 'language' to write on the various application forms. It's really not that hard if you are determined.

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    +1 for lawyer. I gave up on the H1B though (was on a J1 for a stint as well). Not so much a problem with me but my employer had too many H1B's on the payroll and they were having trouble getting the labor certification. – pap May 28 '12 at 11:51
  • On average, how much the fees for an immigration layer requesting visas can be? – Ricardo Sanchez-Saez Jan 18 '13 at 10:32
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    Something like 3,000... but that was 25 years ago... – Michael Durrant Jan 18 '13 at 15:23
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    Sorry, things are MUCH harder and different now than they were 25 years ago. H1B is pretty much useless at the moment, because he chance to win the lottery is less than 30% for 2016. – Hilmar Mar 2 '16 at 11:56
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I went the typical path H1B-> H1B -> Green Card

The process is time consuming, cumbersome and expensive. You will need a "good" lawyer but these tend to charge many 100s of $ per hour. It's most helpful to have the hiring company fully on board and drive (and pay) for the process. Basically the sponsoring company has to prove that no one in the US is either willing or capable of filling the position. That requires crafting a really specific job description (that ideally only fits you) and the job needs to shopped around domestically. If you have an advanced academic background you could do also try the category "outstanding researcher". There are a few more categories for artists, people with lots of money, etc.

The whole process is burdensome for the sponsoring company so some simply won't do it, especially at the moment where unemployment is high and many companies can meet their needs from the domestic labor pool. However, if they do, it means that they like you very much and that they feel you are great addition to their workforce. That's a pretty good starting point for a new career!!

It's doable, if

  1. you can find a company that is wiling to sponsor you.
  2. that company puts that into a written offer BEFORE you move. You can't move without an H1B anyway, but it's really helpful to get the Green Card sponsorship in writing
  3. You feel comfortable staying with the company for at least 5 years. You CANNOT change employers while on an H1B.
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I have been through that route and is definitely not easy.

H1B -> H1B -> Green Card as other mentions is definitely the most common way. With all the caveats and limitations attached to that process. It is generally a long, painful and random process.

A lot of employers are generally weary of going through the process as the H1B is not always granted despite best efforts. Also application starts in April (and because of quotas you would need to apply in April) for jobs starting in October. A lot of employers don't want to get involved into a 6+ months random administrative process without even counting interviewing effort probably starting well ahead of April. Your best chances are for highly skilled, highly specialized, not time sensitive roles. I would say time-wise that January-February would be the best time to interview.

One side note: if the overall process works some employer might take advantage of you being tied to them for 5 years. So be sure that they are a great match for you.

There are two other paths you can explore :

  • There is an official green card lottery anyone can enter and hope to get a green card directly, you would then be free to explore your options in the US : https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/. Then finding a job becomes essentially a skill/job market mechanics discussion.

  • The other path, which would be the one I recommend : If you work for more than a year for an international company which has offices in the US and you can demonstrate specialized skills or manage a team they could transfer you quite easily with an L1B visa (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L-1_visa). L1Bs are more flexible than H1B and if you are transfered as a manager L1B there is a special track to the Green Card. This path is a lot less random and large companies and presumably game studios are able and willing to do the needed paperwork especially since you are already part of the company.

So my suggested path is apply for jobs for international video game studio (it could be somewhere else in Europe or in Canada (where skilled workers have a somewhat easier path to get a visa). It will give you a chance to develop an international experience and then potentially lead you to working in the US for that studio.

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