from internship to a full time position?
April 22, 2012 1:15 PM   Subscribe

[US work visa issue] starting as an (unpaid) internship for a month and moving on to a full-time position?

asking for a friend who is an international student graduating from college (in the US) next month:

I got a job offer as an executive assistant in a small company, which will start as an unpaid internship for a month or two and slowly move on to a full time position if I pass the evaluation. The employer is willing to invest on my visa when my OPT (Optional Practical Training) period (one year) is over. I found this job through my professor.

This is what I know so far:
- weekly salary ($500)
- Housing can be provided (the employer has a spare room in his/her house).
-During the first year year, the employer will evaluate and decide if s/he is going to sponsor working visa for me.

For those with the experience of hiring a foreign national or being hired as a foreign national, what was your experience like? Do you see any red flags here? Other than documenting everything, what other steps should be taken?
posted by perkinite to Work & Money (10 answers total)
Eh, the process required for a non-US citizen to obtain the correct visa to be allowed to work in the US is a time-consuming and expensive process. Is this small employer ready, willing and able to really do what is required? One way for you, and hence your friend, to understand the process required to get work authorization is to peruse previous AskMe's related to this topic...
posted by dfriedman at 1:31 PM on April 22, 2012

Lots of red flags. Living in the house of the employer upon whose approval your immigration status depends on, who won't even pony up to pay you at first, seems to me like Something To Be Approached With Caution.
posted by threeants at 1:39 PM on April 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

Whether your friend can stay in the United States is an important issue in his life. Paying an experienced immigration attorney for a consultation is worth the cost given how high the stakes and consequences are. Do not rely on what you find online.

A good question to ask an experienced immigration attorney is whether an executive assistant position would qualify you for work status of some sort once your OPT expires.

Another good question to ask is how soon before your OPT expires should you file the paperwork for your new status. Ie, if your employer waits until right before your OPT expires to make a decision, will you still be able to adjust to a new status?
posted by helloimjohnnycash at 1:43 PM on April 22, 2012

Ummmm. living in the employer's house is a huge, giant, flashing red flag to me, foreign or not. I would absolutely not do that.

One to two month unpaid internship??? Another GIANT freaking red flag. Nail that down. EXACTLY how long will your friend be working without pay? Also, internship for an executive assistant? Also sounds quite fishy. Sounds a lot like they don't want to actually pay someone to work for them.

When did the OPT start? Was it before April? Because that means that it will expire before April of next year when the next round of H1B visas comes available, that means your friend needs to get in on this year's allotment and they really need to start that process immediately because they go fast.

I agree with dfriedman, the process is quite time consuming for an employer and costs are about 4-6 grand. More for someone who does know what the are doing because that means more in legal fees to get everything correct. For a company that wants to get two months of free work and then pay an absolute pittance I find it hard to believe they want to shell out for a work visa.
posted by magnetsphere at 1:43 PM on April 22, 2012

Threeants is correct as well. Be sure to ask the attorney about any implications living in the employers house will have.
posted by helloimjohnnycash at 1:44 PM on April 22, 2012

that should say "more for someone who DOESN'T know what they are doing..." I always do that.
posted by magnetsphere at 1:46 PM on April 22, 2012

Other people have commentend on whether or not this sounds fishy. But in terms of getting an H1B (or whatever visa your profession will bring you), here are things to think about (since I'm just going through this myself):

- Small company might not necessarily be actually able to sponsor for an H1B. This requires legal aid, and proof that no one local was able to be hired for this position. Also, money. I think it's around 3000 dollars for the lawyers to put in the application, and then there's the money the company needs to spend on hiring the lawyer.

- You only have a year to get your H1B in order (unless you are in science/engineering and then you can apply for an extension), so think about what is going to happen if the end of the year approaches and your company isn't sponsoring you. You won't have much time to look for a new job.

- If you know for a fact that they will sponsor you, you should ask them if they have done it in the past and have them talk to you about how it has been for other employees they've had. Did other employees have issues when they went for the final approval (requires leaving the country and interviewing at a local embassy and then returning to the US). How long did that process take for their other employees? My company has done many many H1Bs for people in my situation so the lawyers they have worked with were great and did everything really quickly and effectively. But the system is harsh and everything can take a very long time (as I have found the hard way).

- I don't really know what implications living in the employers house will have in terms of getting your H1B - personally, my lawyer and the people who interviewed me for the final approval of the visa had no idea about my personal life in the US. However, it MAY have implications down the line if you choose to apply for a green card through sponsorship. Also, it doesn't sound like fun.
posted by carmel at 2:10 PM on April 22, 2012

I got a job offer as an executive assistant in a small company, which will start as an unpaid internship for a month or two
This isn't even legal for U.S citizens.
posted by delmoi at 2:38 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the NYT:
“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.

Ms. Leppink said many employers failed to pay even though their internships did not comply with the six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.
Another one of the criteria (see page 8 of the PDF) is "Trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period"

As far as the H1B visa goes, I definitely don't think you can wait a year to file the paper work. I have a friend who changed jobs recently and she made sure she had the paperwork filed for the new job before she even quit her previous job. Normally people working on H1Bs tend to work for large corporations with large HR departments where all this stuff is streamlined.
posted by delmoi at 2:52 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

OP, please have your friend scrounge up the money to talk with a lawyer. There are a few comments in this thread that are flat out wrong. Your future is too important to base your decisions around faulty information.
posted by helloimjohnnycash at 3:14 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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