Who can two art/design types move from the UK to the USA and find work?
February 26, 2012 2:56 AM   Subscribe

Why is it so hard for UK citizens to move and work in the USA?

I'm a Graphic Designer with 5+ years industry experience and a Batchelors Degree in Graphic Design (specifically for the video games industry). My girlfriend is an Arts Administrator and has 2+ years industry experience and a Masters Degree in Art History.

We would both like to move to the United States and work for a year or two (maybe more if we really love it) as both of us really like it there. However, there seem to be so many hurdles with regards to Visas that make it almost impossible and we don't know where to start.

Does anyone have any experience in this area? Thanks so much for your help in advance.
posted by stackhaus23 to Work & Money (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Well the title is a typo! It should read "How can two art/design types move from the UK to the USA and find work?"
posted by stackhaus23 at 2:58 AM on February 26, 2012

Best answer: The path to work permits and immigration in the US is a long, obstacle strewn one for anyone from outside, not just the citizens of the UK.

A few ways to move and work there legally include:

L visas which are for employees of foreign companies being internally transferred to a US based office location.

H1 - temporary skilled worker permits which are granted after you receive a job offer and your employer is willing to sponsor you.

Or, seeing if one or either you have a fast track to getting permanent residency (green card) or to apply for a Master's program and subsequently be permitted to gain local work experience (but this may not apply to spouses) either through a student visa F1 or an exchange visitor visa J1 (the J2 accompanying partner might have to be a legal spouse to benefit from this employment validity).

Are either of you affiliated with a design firm with North American offices?
posted by infini at 3:50 AM on February 26, 2012

Best answer: Seconding the L visa as the preferred option (even if as sleight of hand). Get a job with a US office of a UK firm. Get paid via the UK office.

H1 visas are possible, but you'll be paid a reduced rate unless your portfolio is sufficiently stunning that they want you specifically rather than to undercut the market.
posted by jaduncan at 4:06 AM on February 26, 2012

Why is it so hard for UK citizens to move and work in the USA?

Answer: the system is designed to prevent you from doing so absent a considerable and demonstrable need of the US employer.
posted by jaduncan at 4:08 AM on February 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Browse www.coroflot.com and list your respective portfolios, if you have not already done so.
posted by infini at 4:36 AM on February 26, 2012

I found this infographic useful in figuring out immigration to the US. Not sure about just work visas, though.
posted by sarae at 5:23 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One option might be for you to go and study in the USA. That would give you more experience of living there and might increase your chances of finding a prospective employer who would be willing to assist you through the immigration process.

In the past decade or so many countries other than the USA have introduced a points system for prospective immigrants: if you have skills which are valuable then it is easier to get in. Some of these schemes have been ramped back by western countries since the financial crisis - but increased by those in Asia. See these two recent Economist articles for a discussion of the state of post-crisis migration.

My point in mentioning this is as follows: don't forget to consider the competing appeal of attempting to immigrate to one of the many countries potentially willing to grant you residency directly in, recognition of your skills.
posted by rongorongo at 5:25 AM on February 26, 2012

> We would both like to move to the United States ... as both of us really like it there.

Join the queue; seemingly, so does most of the rest of the world. It's difficult for everyone. Ms scruss is a US citizen, and it would still be an absurd amount of paperwork and expense for us to live and work there together.
posted by scruss at 6:08 AM on February 26, 2012

Best answer: Unless I'm missing something, I would suspect that it is similarly difficult for a US citizen to find employment in the UK. And specifically, the jobs in question have to be ones that are in high demand with few employment opportunities for native citizens. That's what I encountered when I looked, extremely briefly, into that possibility for myself six or seven years ago.

It's for this reason that it's difficult in the US. Employment in, say, Canada, is probably easier because as a Commonwealth nation it has a reciprocal relationship with the UK. So for example if you are under the age of (I think) 30 you can go on a working holiday to Canada or a number of other Commonwealth countries (probably Australia for example?). As a US citizen I, however, was stuck not being able to work pretty much anywhere.

It makes total sense that it is difficult to work in developed countries that are not your own.

The idea is: employment (in the sense of "jobs that are out there") is a limited commodity and should be reserved first for people already resident in that country. If you think about it, not only is there the fact that you're effectively depriving a resident from potential employment, you also have to consider the work that goes into administering an additional immigrant to the country.

In countries where native English speakers are in high demand you would easily be able to find employment but not necessarily in the area you have expertise in. For example, you could get jobs with little effort in either Japan or S. Korea, but they would be in teaching English, not art design.

Other countries that are open to outside workers are semi-industrialized or developing countries, where there are fewer people with college education. And again, in most of those countries your value is as a native speaker rather than whatever actual work experience you possess.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:49 AM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Note that it might be illumintaing to say what you like about the United States and why you want to move there. There may be other countries that are similar where it i easier to get employment.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:52 AM on February 26, 2012

Best answer: Alternate route: become a canadian citizen, then work and live in the states under the TN status. (Instant, no cost, renewal every year)
posted by blue_beetle at 7:00 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Still not easy, blue_beetle. I'm Canadian and the paperwork is a nightmare. Also, one of the terms of my H-1B visa is/was that you must be fulfilling a job that no American is qualified for or willing to take (to paraphrase). There are VERY few jobs that fit that description nowadays.

Also renewal of the TN visa is basically at the (annual) mercy of your border guard. Not ideal for a couple looking to create a life here.
posted by bquarters at 7:20 AM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It is difficult to seek a job here and obtain permission to perform that job -- that is, putting aside going through studies first, or internal transfers, neither of which seem to be what you want.

You also ask why this is, and I think that's relevant to the frustration you are undoubtedly feeling. To echo Deathalicious, I think this comes as a rude shock in part because of how easy it is for you in other regards. UK citizens enjoy relative ease in working throughout the Commonwealth and much of Europe. But independent countries, like the United States, have fewer agreements and mutual preferences, meaning that it's hard to come here and work and hard for US citizens to go elsewhere and work. Almost every country closes its borders to some extent to outsiders and it's predominately a matter of how many contexts you can claim insider status in.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:54 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am an immigration lawyer, though IANYL.

For Canadians and Mexicans interested in TN status, here's the list of TN-qualifying occupations under NAFTA. Many of them are subject to specific educational requirements. So, even though you might be able to get an H-1B by demonstrating that you have education (e.g., a one or two-year post-secondary diploma) and several years of professional experience deemed equivalent to a U.S. bachelor's degree in graphic design, that doesn't always work for a TN, where NAFTA stipulates that you must have a bachelor's degree in graphic design.

The border adjudication process for Canadian TN applicants is a nightmare. Customs and Border Protection officers are (many, not all) aggressive, power-tripping, unfamiliar with their own policies, and inconsistent. I've seen my clients be denied by officers for lacking X set of documents, so the foreign national diligently comes back later with X set of documents, only to be told by THAT reviewing officer that no one would ever require X set of documents, and he needs to get Y set of documents instead. My colleague described it as the "Wild Wild West" out there.

L visas are increasingly difficult to obtain unless you can show that you have knowledge of company-specific proprietary technology/processes. If the company is large enough to have an L blanket program, then it might be an easier process at the U.S. Embassy in London, since in my experience, they have a more liberal standard for "specialized knowledge" than the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services does.

Another option that hasn't been mentioned yet is the E-1 treaty or E-2 investor visa. Those can be options if you're being employed by a UK-owned company that qualifies.

Also, the E-3 is available for Australians, and the H-1B1 is available for nationals of Chile and Singapore, regardless of the employer's nationality.

Ultimately, it sounds like from your question that you've ruled out the option of finding a UK employer first, so the L-1, E-1, and E-2 wouldn't be immediate options. If you're not optimistic about finding a U.S. employer who can sponsor you for an H-1B (that employer would have to wait until October 1 for you to start working, as that would be the first possible date for work authorization under the H-1B cap), then I'd recommend applying to grad school. Get into an MFA graphic design program at a U.S. university. Come in as an F-1 student, network, use your school work authorization as a student to intern for a company, and see if that company will sponsor you for an H-1B.
posted by snafu at 8:18 AM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you already have credits on published videogames, then apply for jobs directly with US developers. Some may be willing to sponsor you for an H1B, depending how long they've been searching for candidates and your experience level. Your girlfriend would not be able to join you unless she gets her own visa, or you two get married (that would allow her to come with you but not work).
posted by Joh at 9:00 AM on February 26, 2012

You could also just work in a UK company via telecommute, of course. It's what I do when I'm abroad (different industry though).
posted by jaduncan at 9:44 AM on February 26, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all of your answers. One thing I failed to add is that I already work for an international games company, one that has offices in the United States (lots) and the possibility of a transfer would not be out of the question. I just wanted to see if there were any other options. It also seems like Miss Stackhaus would be to become Mrs Stackhaus, she'd be happy that I finally got around to asking!

Thanks again : )
posted by stackhaus23 at 4:54 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

As Deathalicious noted, the reverse is also true. I was contacted by a headhunter for specialized position based in the UK, but once it was noted that I was of American citizenship, her response was basically that it would be next to impossible for the company to sponsor me because of the strict rules about filling local positions with local UK and EU residents. From her past experience, you could go through the dance and the paperwork, but at the end of the day for an American to get a job into the UK without being an existing employee in the company and transferring was just a waste of time for me, the headhunter, and the company to get rejected. Under her advise, the only way to have gotten around that easily was to marry someone from the UK or EU! So it's somewhat of a mutual hardship.
posted by peachtree at 6:27 PM on February 27, 2012

> ... Canada, is probably easier because as a Commonwealth nation it has a reciprocal relationship with the UK

Actually, it doesn't; didn't make our progress any less complicated when we applied in 2001. What does make it simpler is the language, and that Canada does (or did) some of the processing in a UK office.
posted by scruss at 5:25 AM on March 9, 2012

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