How to Immigrate to the US as an Engineer
When traveling or moving to the US for a job such as an engineer, there are many different requirements and regulations you ought to meet. Along with this, there are qualifications, degrees and connections that would very much help your case in obtaining a work visa to come to the United States.
Visa Requirements for an Engineer
There are various different types of visas, and which you apply for depends on your education, nationality and specific circumstances. A few visas can be self-sponsored, but most of them need to be sponsored by a company in the US. In other words, you have to have a job offer to get the visa.
Some visas are only meant to be temporary, whereas some require you to have intent to stay in the US permanently (these are called dual intent visas). If you’re not on a dual intent visa then you may be asked to prove that you have significant ties to your home country, and no intent to reside in the US permanently or apply for a green card.
A few visas can be self-sponsored, but most of them need to be sponsored by a company in the US. In other words, you have to have a job offer to get the visa.
- The H1-B visa is a 3 to 6 year work permit for skilled workers who do not intend to remain in the country. The US currently has an annual limit of 65,000 H1-B visas, although there are exemptions for some classes of highly qualified workers and some nationalities, so in practice over 130,000 were issued in the last financial year. Of these, the vast majority are given for jobs requiring high-level STEM skills. It’s tied to your job, so once your job ends, you have to leave the country. Your employer has to petition for this for you before you can start work.
- Canadians and Mexicans can apply for a TN visa, which allows them to work in the US for a limited time, while Australians can apply for an E3 visa. Like the H1-B, these are tied to your job.
- If you intend to become a permanent resident, you can apply for a Green Card. This allows you to remain in the US regardless of your current employment.
Education Requirements for Engineers
Having a degree in computer science, or a closely related field, is really going to help you with getting a US work visa. Many have found that the easiest route for engineers is to start by studying in the US. There’s a strong preference for engineers with an American degree, especially at Masters’ level. There are two programs designed specifically to help overseas students on F1 visas.
- Optional Practical Training (OPT): you can take up temporary employment for up to 29 months in work relating to your major area of study.
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT): you can do up to 12 months of work prior to completing your degree as part of your program of study. If you do more than 12 months of CPT, you are ineligible for OPT.
An OPT or CPT can help, but they are not required. It will benefit you immensely to intern with an American company while you are in the states.
The 1989 Washington Accord sets out the benchmarks for internationally recognized engineering degree programs and other qualifications. If your degree is from any of these signatory countries, it’ll be recognized by the USA: Australia, Canada, Tai Pei, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, UK, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines.
If you do not see your country listed above, you’ll need to contact the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) who will be able to advise whether your qualifications will be accepted. From there, they will explain to you what is needed in order to further become an engineer in the United States.
Majority of companies having to do with engineering are interested in sponsoring visas if they can afford to.
A visa can cost companies anywhere between $2,500 to $10,000 in legal and USCIS fees to sponsor. Compared to an engineer’s salary, this isn’t usually a problem for companies — especially if they’ve raised some outside capital.
The most difficult problem to these companies, however, is the amount of time it takes to prepare and process a visa. Most objections to sponsoring a visa boil down to the time costs, rather than anything else. This is especially true for H-1Bs, which can take the best part of a year to process depending on when you apply.
Employers will be looking for great communication and language skills, so make sure you are strong in your ability to speak English.
Why Engineers Should Seek Professional Help
Getting a US visa can be difficult, even for really qualified individuals who are going to contribute a lot to the country in terms of engineering and taxes. It is in your best interest that you have an immigration attorney help you through this. With so many applicants each year from around the world for work visas, it is important to get experienced legal help that will ensure your application package has the best chance of being accepted. Missed or incorrect details can result in a failed bid, which can be devastating if they could have been easily avoided if prepared by a professional immigration expert. The stakes are high. If your application is refused, your case will be permanently recorded on the U.S. Immigration database. Therefore it is essential to get it right the first time!
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