What are my prospects for moving to the US?
September 4, 2010 4:35 PM   Subscribe

My SO has a permanent job in the US. We're both British citizens. What are the prospects for me to move over to join her? Also: Canada!

I'm in the UK; she's in Austin, TX. She found the job of her dreams over there and moved two years ago on a J-1 visa. She's a skilled professional in a creative industry; I'm a programmer with a couple years' experience in some unusual areas (Fortran and CUDA, if anyone's curious).

We're racking our brains trying to figure out a way for me to move over and work in the US so we can be together. Neither of us have relatives in the US, so getting me permission to stay in the US would appear to rely upon me having a job offer on the table and a company willing to jump through the hoops.

So, the question: Are my attempts to get a job in Austin at all realistic? I've applied for a fair few, and haven't got anywhere. I know the US job market isn't great at the moment, and that importing people from overseas is a pain for the sponsoring organisation. Is it at all realistic to think that I might find a company in the US to go through this?

Bonus question: Her company also has an office in Canada, and it's possible that she may be able to transfer. I have relatives over there and (I think) enough points on their immigration system. Would we be better served by perusing this angle?
posted by Urtylug to Law & Government (12 answers total)
Is marrying her a possibility? My (very rudimentary) understanding is that you are eligible for a J-2 visa as the spouse of a J-1 visa holder, which gives you the right to work in the US.
posted by brainmouse at 4:42 PM on September 4, 2010

Bonus: immigrating to Canada as a skilled worker does take a year or two, so be prepared for that. But if you meet the requirements then it's mostly a matter of jumping through the hoops.
posted by Emanuel at 5:13 PM on September 4, 2010

Apparently the OP is male and he refers to his SO as "she", so marriage is probably the fastest and most straightforward way to go.
posted by Oktober at 5:20 PM on September 4, 2010

Yeah, getting married is going to give you the most straightforward route. Expect six months for processing, but that's comparable with the wait for a H1-B if you were to find a programming job that was prepared to sponsor you. Otherwise, look to Canada.
posted by holgate at 5:21 PM on September 4, 2010

It's VERY hard to get a work-sponsored visa. The businesses have to prove that they can't fill the position with a national, and then it's several thousand bucks (I think for each step of the process). Frankly, it's much easier to get the via through marriage than through any other route.
posted by lhall at 6:07 PM on September 4, 2010

I can't offer advice on immigrating to the US, but I'd like to make the point that if you decide to immigrate to Canada instead, and you are not already married or if you prefer not to marry, it is possible to immigrate as a common-law or conjugal partner. You would not need a job offer to do it that way and you will be eligible to apply for work here once you have permanent residency. This is probably something you should get a lawyer's advice on, though - I'm pretty sure being married is easier than proving conjugal partnership, and maybe immigrating as a skilled worker would be easier since you say you think you have enough points on your own. But Canada is definitely more flexible about partners who are not spouses than the US is.
posted by flex at 6:39 PM on September 4, 2010

1) The US immigration system is a total nightmare. It is soul-destroying, illogical, slow and will shred your soul. (I'm a past casualty.) As others have said, it is easier to just get married and then get the visa you describe. HOWEVER, do this with the help of an attorney. Do not wing it. In fact, consult an attorney before getting married. There is a right way to do all of this. Otherwise, the immigration people will take personal pleasure in stymying you at every turn.

2) Another possible option -- Just so you know, it is MUCH easier to emigrate to the United States if you are an intra-company transfer, from one branch to another, than just showing up as a new hire. Conceivably, your partner could move to Canada (super easy compared to USA), you could join her, and then after a year, she could move back to the USA. Not sure if the company would be up for all that moving, but it is an option.
posted by teedee2000 at 7:19 PM on September 4, 2010

Don't underestimate the frustration involved with dealing with USCIS. Even as a well qualified, well financed wife of an American, it was a year of bureaucracy and stress that put a pretty serious strain on the relationship. That's not to say you shouldn't marry her, but make sure it's really what you want and mentally prepare yourself for a shitty time in the interim while dispassionate (and sometimes borderline psychotic) strangers hold the course of your life in their hands.
posted by Kappi at 7:32 PM on September 4, 2010

Nthing the "US immigration = pain" from above. Be very, very careful, patient, lucky, and basically perfect, and get a lawyer now. One of my aunts had to move back to her home country for a year because she and my uncle did exactly what the nice immigration official said to do.

I have to assume Canada is easier, only because I can't imagine it's actually harder.
posted by SMPA at 7:40 PM on September 4, 2010

An L-1 visa might be a good option.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 8:44 PM on September 4, 2010

If the Canadian office is in British Columbia, you will be able to take advantage of the British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program, which will streamline the work visa process down to three months.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:38 AM on September 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies, everyone. (FWIW, I am indeed male)

Re: Marriage - We have considered this. We'd prefer not to rush into it for immigration purposes, but I suppose that if that's the way to do it, there's something to be said for pragmatism. Understood that this is not an easy, or certain, route to take.

Re: Canada - We're definitely examining the possibilty. Depends on whole stack of things, obviously, but after reading up on the subject, this would appear on the face of it to be a far simplier and less painful route.

Re: L-1 Visa/internal transfer - As I understand it from Wikipedia, if I find a job in another country (here?) with a company that also operates in Austin, I could potentially then get an internal transfer over to the Austin office with an L-1 visa, and this would be far less troublesome.
posted by Urtylug at 9:14 AM on September 5, 2010

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