European (German) looking to move to and work in the US
January 21, 2014 7:13 AM   Subscribe

Okay, I'm trying to keep this brief: I am a German citizen who's been toying with the idea of moving to America for a year or two (or more) for a while now and I need help regarding the work permit papers. More details within.

The reason I've never seriously started to do anything about moving to America (other than repeatedly spending All The Monies going there on holiday..sorry, vacation) is because of the well-known "no visa, no job but no job, no visa" situation. I have now looked further into it and it seems that the green card lottery (electronic diversity visa lottery, to be precise) opens in May every year for the following year. I'd be happy to apply for that, however I'd like to move by Easter this year already so it wouldn't be much help for my immediate plans.

My question would be: Could I legally work remotely for a European employer while in the US (my current job might keep me on part time) and even if that is possible, how could I stay past the 90 day tourist visa while doing so?
I have found a few jobs [specific to my German/bilingual language and other skills as I figured they won't give me a job unless it's something only I (or someone like me) can do - you wouldn't want me to take a job away from an American citizen, right?!] but some of them outright say I'd have to have a work permit as they wouldn't supply me with one. What a Catch 22!

What exactly does it mean when a U.S. job sponsors a European employee and can you think of any other ways I could relocate (without getting into debt and the like - I do need a job while I'm gonna be over!) to the US? I am aiming for the rest of this year so short term solutions might be a good start too. I am just preparing myself for the (seemingly) inevitable disappointment of the failure of my attempt at relocating. I would, of course, love to stay longer. This is, if I find the appropriate job/career over there. (Not sure whether this matters but my first choice is NYC though I'd consider places like Boston, Chicago, Philly, etc. should the right job come along.)

Any help would be appreciated; I really am over Berlin and ze Germans (for now, at least!) and going back to the UK (where I lived from 2000-2009) would just seem like a step back at this moment in time. It sure is easier, though.
posted by mrsh to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
...I figured they won't give me a job unless it's something only I (or someone like me) can do...

The short version is that this is correct. To become employed in the US, a company has to sponsor your visa, basically telling the government that they either need you, specifically, or that they cannot find a person already permitted to work in the U.S. with the qualifications to do the job. The process is a pain in the ass, and the number of such visas are limited. The one most people know about is the H1B visa and there's not a lot of these to go around. If you happen to be some sort of highly-accomplished visionary in your field, you may be able to apply as an alien of extraordinary ability but that requires you to have done something along the lines of winning a Nobel prize.

The green card lottery is exactly that: a lottery. I'm an immigrant and grew up in an immigrant community of people trying to escape their home countries by any way possible, and that was never really something anyone could count on.

Last thing: it may be really tempting to overstay your tourist visa, just because it is extraordinarily easy to do so. Don't. I know a number of people that have done that, and the consequences are absolutely not worth it.
posted by griphus at 7:28 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd be happy to apply for that, however I'd like to move by Easter this year already so it wouldn't be much help for my immediate plans.

There is no bloody way you're getting a green card this year unless you've either (1) got close relatives in the US, or (2) are possessed of exceptional skills/talent/capital. In the absence of those factors, even if you are eligible to apply for a green card the shortest you're likely to be able to procure one is sometime around 2024.

My question would be: Could I legally work remotely for a European employer while in the US (my current job might keep me on part time)

Not unless your visa permits you to work in the US.

how could I stay past the 90 day tourist visa while doing so?

You can't.

Look, this really doesn't sound like something you've put nearly enough thought into. Permanently relocating from continental Europe to the US isn't something that you just do. One does not merely walk into a green card, as it were. Someone needs to have planned this for years. Usually that someone is an employer. "I think it would be fun" is not nearly good enough a reason to get your work permit given the literally millions of people ahead of you in line.

If you're open to the idea, consider going back to school. Foreign nationals get advanced degrees at American universities all the time. There's nothing stopping them from then looking for jobs with US employers, as such employers are usually more willing to deal with sponsoring a foreign national than those on the general job market.

Either find a way of getting a job that lets you do this, marry a US citizen, resign yourself to tourist visas, or give it up.
posted by valkyryn at 7:52 AM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

The easiest ways to do this are to (a) work for a multinational company and get a secondment/transfer to the US [generally have to work there for 1-2 years first] or (b) enroll in a university [expensive].

Telecommuting internationally is a very messy (and uncharted) area of law. Do not do this without getting US and German legal/tax advice.

Maybe consider a job at an NGO/UN-type place in Switzerland or Belgium. After a few years, a transfer to the US might be more feasible.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:56 AM on January 21, 2014

You don't specify your skills, but programmer/ technical skills might be the easiest to get a sponsorship from a company.

Seasonal work could be another option -- the ski mountains in NE have lot of Argentinians and Chileans working this tim of the year. In the summer it's more resort towns that need extra help. Not sure of the particulars of their visas, but these (seem) to attach relatively young 20-somethings.
posted by zeikka at 9:27 AM on January 21, 2014

What valkyryn said: stick your immediate plans in the dustbin.

You really need to take two steps back, understand the specific visa options potentially available to you based upon your skills, experience and the funds available to you, then focus on one of them and the specific combination of things you will then need to get that visa.

You might as well apply for the diversity visa lottery -- though you'll be competing with applicants from the rest of Europe for a limited subset of a limited number of spots -- because it's going to take at least as long as that process for you to figure out a credible alternative route.
posted by holgate at 9:36 AM on January 21, 2014

Response by poster: Apologies if my initial post made it look as if I thought this was going to be a walk in the park / or at all realistic even. I just thought there'd be no harm in giving the old MeFi a whirl.

How about Canada? Is that easier?

Au Pair agencies?

Having a baby with an American without getting married?

And please, take this with a pinch of salt. Like I said, I've been wanting to move across for 4+ years now; there's (more than) one reason I haven't.

Does anybody know how much it actually costs a U.S. company to sponsor a foreign employee / and how long it takes? Or does this vary greatly from case to case?

posted by mrsh at 9:53 AM on January 21, 2014

Au Pair agencies?

Any employment is better than none, but the more skilled the job, the easier getting a visa will be.

Having a baby with an American without getting married?

Better than no relationship at all, but not as good as getting married.

Does anybody know how much it actually costs a U.S. company to sponsor a foreign employee / and how long it takes? Or does this vary greatly from case to case?

It's hard to break that down into individual cases. Most of the companies that do this on a regular basis have a workflow set up and people on staff who do visa work full time. Adding one extra employee to their workload isn't going to cost the company any extra money. But if you were to pay a lawyer to do it all, after filing fees and attorney fees it's hard to see this getting done for much less than two grand. Closer to three or four if it's a large employer, as the filing fee is higher.
posted by valkyryn at 10:01 AM on January 21, 2014

How about Canada? Is that easier?

It might be, but there's still no way you'll be able to move by Easter. The current processing time for foreign skilled workers through Vienna is 20 months. You could try getting a potential employer to sponsor you as a temporary foreign worker, but they would still have to prove that they can't find a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to do the job.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:03 AM on January 21, 2014

I'm just about to get my green card after living here and working on H1-B visa for years. I came through my job which was desperate for international workers ten years ago. Many things have changed since then. I think an internal transfer at a multinational company is probably the best way now...or if you can get school funding. It's not hopeless but frankly the quality of life where you live may be better (vacation time, health care, food quality, proximity to international travel, parental leave etc...) and coming as a visitor (fun!) is not the same as living and working here which can be a pretty serious grind at times. So, keep your eyes and ears open for job opportunities where you may be able to get sponsored but in the meantime enjoy the euro-lifestyle and keep coming to NYC for fun trips. BTW I left London before moving here and often wonder if I did the right thing... (On preview) Oh and I'm from Canada- very difficult to emigrate to, it's on a point system. Don't worry about how much it costs the company to sponsor you - that's on their end, just worry if you have to pay your own legal fees through the process as I did!

If you are under 30, I think Australia has good one or two year working visas. And I know a German girl who was an au pair here in New Jersey..she was young too though. But definitely that is a US option, for sure.
posted by bquarters at 10:03 AM on January 21, 2014

Regarding your follow-up question, OP:

H1b visa sponsorship costs a U.S. company from $2,000 to $6,000 excluding attorney fees. As an applicant, it is illegal for you to bear these filing costs, so the company has to pay for them. You can offer to pay for the attorney fees, though.

Also, H1b visa applications are generally accepted in early April every year. There are only 65,000 slots + additional 20,000 slots (for advanced degree holders) so the employer has to act fast before these slots are filled up. That means you need to secure a job that provides visa sponsorship before April.

I'm an international student graduating from a U.S. university, so I have been looking into this as well. It's really hard to get a job these days. It's extremely hard to get a job as an international student. Many job postings specifically state that they won't sponsor H1b visa.
posted by shadowy_world at 10:08 AM on January 21, 2014

Through Canada is easier if you are fluent in French (in which case you go through Quebec).

Also I want to jump on the train here: DO NOT OVERSTAY YOUR TOURIST VISA

I knew a guy who did this. He was sent to jail and then deported. His (now ex) girlfriend gets "randomly selected" to be searched each time she crosses the Canada / US border. I can virtually guarantee he will never ever be allowed in Canada again.

I can only imagine that the US is less lenient about these things.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:16 AM on January 21, 2014

I have a friend in his 30's who is dual nationality UK and US. He married his English wife 11 years ago. They now live in US. so she is entitled to first a green card then US nationality. She obtained the green card after some time and trouble, worked hard, paid taxes. It took them years to get her US nationality despite all this and despite the fact that the law is clear on spouses. They made it very difficult for them for no reason. Their take on it was that the USCIS is very difficult to deal with and does everything to not make any of it easy even if it is a clear cut case. Considering that, could you find a job as a translator perhaps for an import-export German company operating in US or some other big company? Translators are sometimes needed on the phone and/or internet. Otherwise, school, student visa. As others have mentioned, never consider overstaying your visa. You could be excluded from US for long time or forever.
posted by claptrap at 2:20 AM on January 22, 2014

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