Ciara Kenny

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Transferring to the US

Even with my employer’s help, the visa application process was long and stressful, writes Sinéad Lee

Tue, Aug 5, 2014, 16:34


Sinéad Lee

When contemplating my move to Boston a year ago, I found it useful to hear from others who had been through something similar. I wrote a blog post for Generation Emigration in May, and several people left a comment asking about my visa situation, so I thought I’d share my experience.

There are many different types of visas available to work in America. I transferred from Ireland with a financial services company, and am currently on an L1 visa.

L1-A or L1-B visas are granted to intracompany transferees in managerial or executive positions, or in positions utilising specialised knowledge, who have worked in a company’s affiliated foreign office. The visa period is for three to seven years, and as these are sought after, the application process can be stressful and time consuming.

You will have to provide a lot of documentation. This will include all of your qualifications, the reasons why you should be granted the job over an American worker, how you will excel in your role, and a number of other online questionnaires. The longest and most important is the DS-160 (now is not the time to give a witty answer to the “Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization?” question).

The entire process took two months for me, and that was with the assistance of the company, and an immigration lawyer. Two months of phone calls with numerous departments, lawyers, accountants and visa offices, running to chemists to get special photos taken for American visas before the deadline, gathering proof that I could support myself financially, getting official certification of every qualification I have, and signing and completing numerous other forms.

The process culminated in an interview at the American embassy, where my documents were scrutinised, questions asked and my passport handed over. The overall cost runs into the thousands, which is why it would be nearly impossible without the assistance of a big company supporting you.

Even with the help that the company gave me, it was a stressful two months. My cortisol  levels were already up, as I prepared to move out of my apartment, sorted out tax and bills, finished up work projects while still working full-time, got myself ready for the move to a new country and job, and spent as much time with friends and family.

As I was moving to the same company, I had no break between jobs, with only a few days to fly and attempt to get settled. I was forewarned the process would not be smooth, but I was not prepared for it to be quite as stressful as it was.

If you are one of the lucky ones who can avail of the opportunity to move to America, it would be unwise to think of it as a “working holiday”. The working culture can be a shock to the system.

Firstly, workers unions are very rare in the US, meaning employees are nowhere near as protected as in Ireland. If you mess up, you’re gone. Secondly, the company will have spent a lot of time and resources on bringing you over, so you have to deliver on your potential.

It is also worth noting that the cost of going to college here is significantly higher than in Europe. It is normal for undergraduates to leave college $100,000 in debt, so you better believe that if you don’t work hard, there will be dozens of debt-ridden workers willing to take your job.

A company is not going to spend thousands on moving you over if they are going to take all of the risk. There will more than likely be a clause, whereby if you leave within a certain period, you will have to pay back any money the company has spent on you. As your visa is employer-sponsored, if you leave your job you will have to leave the country straight away. Moving to another company is almost impossible, as they would have to go through the same visa process again, and a company with which you have no history is not going to spend time and money unless you have skills and experience they can’t find anywhere else.

If it is a dream of yours to work long-term in America, then the best route in is to work for a multinational company for a few years, prove that you are an asset to the company, network and make as many contacts as possible. You might eventually be eligible to apply for a transfer. Before you move, reach out to other expats for advice and hints and tips. Irish people have infiltrated most states in America and in my experience, are more than happy to help out a new immigrant in need. Your passport with the visa will become your most prized possession.

Also, take note that your legal status will include the word “alien”. I got used to this by reminding myself how hilarious my 15-year-old self would have found it.

Read Sinéad Lee’s previous piece for Generation Emigration: My emigration advice: Just get on with it