About Here: A German in Silicon Valley (3)

Welcome back & thanks a lot for keeping up with me!

This is a new blog post about my internship in the US. I am already back in Europe, so this will be my last blog post for the next months (until I am back in the US again). I will focus on the visa process for now, which should be the most important thing for people interested in going to the US.

[read the previous post]

About Here: Visa Process

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The first obstacle after being accepted for a job/internship in the US (if you don’t have a greencard/American citizenship) is the visa (surprise!). To be honest, I don’t know the procedure of getting a working visa for the European Union (where I origin from), so excuse potential hypocrisy in the following section.

If you are lucky, you get sent out to the US by your current employer in your country, which usually means that you don’t have to care about the whole visa process (because your company does).
Since this is commonly only the case for students enrolled in e.g. integrated degree programs, you most likely have to take care about this on your own.

Your US Visa Checklist

The following list (not intended to be exhaustive; applies to students, where the company abroad is not sponsoring your visa) explains the steps you have to conduct for a J-1 visa (which is for students doing trainings or internships abroad; Unfortunately, I cannot make statements about other visa processes, like e.g. H-1B, E2, etc.):

  1. Receive an offer letter from a company in
    the US

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    An offer letter should be send to you after you successfully applied for an internship in an US American-based company. This isn’t necessarily a hardcopy, but could also be a simple PDF. The offer letter should state the exact timespan of your internship as well as your monthly/hourly salary.

     

  2. Undergo a background check

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    Depending on your prospective employer, you have to undergo a background check (I assume that this is required by law). Therefore your employer sends you a link to an online form (usually provided by a third-party background investigation company), where you have to agree on undergoing a background investigation.
    You are required to list previous employer information and contact data of your former/current supervisors (they will definitely call them). You are also supposed to upload official documents like academic and professional certificates.
    This whole process can take a few days.

     

  3. Get a visa sponsor

    After the background check has finished, a visa sponsor is required in order to apply for a J-1 visa. If your company is not your sponsor (was the case for me), you have to choose (and pay) an organization to be your sponsor.

    I would recommend you to go for organizations providing the sponsorship as well as organizing most of the visa issues. Trustworthy organizations I know are:

    German American Chamber of Commerce California (~$1300)
    German American Chamber of Commerce New York (~$1000)
    INTRAX (~$990)

    All of these organizations charge a fee for their service, which is listed in the brackets after the name (prices are based on my personal experiences and first-hand informations). I used the GACCCA and I was happy about the service, but later I realized that it could have been cheaper with GACCNY or INTRAX (service is adequat as well according to other interns).
    Depending on the sponsor organization, documents like international insurance policies and/or a proof of financial reliability (non-US bank account with >$8000, in case you are earning less than $1300/month) may be required.

    Depending on the sponsor, you are also required to do a remote (Skype or phone) interview with an organization employee, who is asking you questions regarding your stay (with the interview, they also want to ensure that your English skills are sufficient for the US).

    This whole process can take a few weeks.

     

  4. Wait for the Documents

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    After all required steps for your J-1 visa application are finished, you will receive your training plan (a.k.a. DS-7002). This document is filed by your employer in cooperation with the sponsor organization, and should state details about your field of work/training.
    You also need to pay a so called SEVIS fee ($180) in order to get the so called I-901 form before your can make an appointment at your embassy/consular office. And because that’s not enough, you also have to apply for the DS-160.

    Waiting for these documents again can take a few weeks.

     

  5. Go to the US embassy/consular office

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    Usually, you can make an appointment for the US embassy or consular office online (and you should do this ASAP after step 4!). This again costs you about $160. To keep it simple for you, be sure to have the following documents available for the appointment:

    DS-7002 / Training Plan
    DS-160
    I-901 / SEVIS fee payment confirmation
    Confirmation that you paid the consulate fee
    Passport
    – Single passport photography of you
    Offer Letter (from your US company)
    Certificate of Enrollment (for your study program)

    (In most US consular offices, it is forbidden to take phones with you, so keep that in mind)

    At the embassy you have to show the required documents and then talk to a embassy/consular employee, who can ask you a variety of questions. From what I heard, most of the time you cannot do something wrong, but think twice about what you say here.
    One tip I got from my sponsor organization: The US consular officer may ask you what do you expect from your stay in the US. Don’t tell them that you want to improve your English skills, otherwise a tricky question like “So why don’t you go to the UK?” could come up.

    In the end, you have to give them your passport for further processing.

     

  6. Receive your passport & DS-2019

After about one additional week, you should receive your passport and your printed DS-2019. Congratulations! With the DS-2019 (in combination with your passport) you are now allowed to travel to the US and work there for the specified timespan.

From now on, you are on your own! 🙂

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I hope that those informations help a lot of people who are facing the J-1 visa challenge. If you have any specifc questions, feel free to contact me.

About Here: … but is it worth it?

… by which I mean “Is it worth the effort to work in the US, especially in Silicon Valley?“.

In my opinion, the answer certainly is quite simple for most people:

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But (of course) there are several things for you to consider, like:

    • Your age

      If you are 30+ and have established certain standards of living, food and/or mobility, Silicon Valley (or other big urban areas) cost of living may be very expensive and therefore not the ideal environment to work and live. Furthermore, the only people older than you may be your senior managers.

    • Your money

      as stated above, the visa process alone is not a cheap matter. You sure need to pay:
      ~$1,400 visa fees + a flight to the US + rent of up to $1,400 for the first month + …
      I understand that this can be a showstopper for many people. If you lend money, be sure that you are able to pay it back with your first salaries (in the US, you usually are paid on a bi-weekly basis).

    • Your professional / academic background

      especially in Silicon Valley, you only see young techies, business people and designers. I don’t know exact numbers, but jobs in other fields may be quite rare in this area.

    • Your intention to work a lot

      US American people on average work about 1,780 hours per year, which (compared to Germany’s 1,363 and France’s 1,472 hours) is a lot. And Silicon Valley companies in particular are not known for their 35h work weeks. So you better be a work-a-holic (attention: exaggeration!).

    • Your intention to found a family

      [Okay… this does not apply to most interns] Working in the US usually pays quite a good salary – as long as you don’t have to feed a family. Basically everything is already very expensive, but nothing compares to (you?) the cost of education.


I really enjoyed the time in the US, so I may be a little biased in my report.
But still: This is for sure a unique experience, and I recommend it to everyone who has the chance.

So if you’re interested in going abroad now, and
If you are looking for an US internship in IT/Software Engineering, feel free to contact me!

Thank you again for reading! 🙂

 

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