5 Things To Know Before Talking To An Immigration Attorney
It's not emblazoned on education abroad flyers or university websites so let me tell you: as an international student there is an impending appointment with a local attorney that's part of the experience. A time will come when you have to speak to one, if you desire to continue working and living in the USA. In less structured fields like the arts, it is doubly imperative to seek legal counsel asap in order to make any progress towards those goals.
When it comes to getting a work visa, it's a bit of a contest. For those in fields like IT, medicine and tech, a lot of energy is spent securing interviews and making it past the challenging hiring process. Once that's in the bag, an in-house HR person tends to work out the legalities with the candidate. Those in fields like the arts - or even sports I would imagine - need to find a way of staying in the country that relies completely on their own ability to prove themselves as thriving professionals in their field of work.
I often saw fellow international students in universities and well assimilated international student alumni at the workplace. What transpired between those two states was a mystery, and one of the big reasons for starting this show. This particular piece of information - that as a student it is up to you to figure out what lies ahead without complete support from your school or employer - was quite a surprise. But now you know!
Here are five things to keep in mind as you take on this - in my opinion - oddly concealed step of the immigration process:
The Stakes: CPT/OPT vs. a Long Term Work Visa
The background is usually this: It's the last semester of school, you know about this year of work experience called OPT coming up and all communication is with USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Services) at this point. While you are a student it's stressful enough just thinking about day to day affairs to even consider being informed on the work visa.
However, CPT and OPT are not easily denied. OPT for instance is a sort of 'bonus' you get after school to work in the country and test the waters. Which is to say that if you send in the necessary documents, in the necessary order within the correct date, that card is pretty much guaranteed. There's no grounds for denial unless there's botched paperwork or flouting of deadlines. This is not the case with acquiring a work visa which is far more demanding in terms of time, evidence required and money.
Start The Process Early
It is a natural tendency to push back this looming discussion of what lies ahead, do you want to live and work in the US, WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS?! So start by just talking to an attorney with the intent of getting information on how things would pan out. If you're like me, you'll do anything to delay actual interaction and go on multiple tab Google searches. I'll just say that more often than not, it results in information fatigue. Rarely do you walk away with a clear step by step view of the road ahead!
I would recommend making this first call just prior to the start of your last semester. BEFORE the CPT or OPT process begins because for the former, you need to provide the name of your prospective short term employer. This is the first real 'work experience' you are acquiring in the USA and you want any & every gig to contribute to the longterm goal of getting a work visa. The break before your last semester is a good time to ask yourself your one choice of profession (singer/performer, guitarist, cinematographer, gets murkier as you go along). Often times this is quite a challenge - as discussed in Ep 03 - as artists are used to doing more than one thing to sustain themselves. Based on this answer you can choose to gather achievements and job offers in solely or at least largely that field. For CPT this would mean picking internships in relevant companies.
Make That First Call Count
Although the intent of the first call is just to get info, this is obviously a prospective long term relationship. Most attorneys are okay with doing the first call free of cost. Use the phone time on this free consultation wisely by making a check list beforehand that contains:
- A clear definition of your field of work and all associated designations in it.
- A super up-to-date resumé with a list of all achievements, small or big, in all areas of work/life.
- Contacts & possible references in the USA and worldwide. Include industry leaders whom you may not personally know but could potentially get in touch with.
- A concise bio.
With this info handy, you can quickly explain where you are coming from and in turn, ask more straightforward questions on how you can form your petition. Don't try to figure this out over the phone. Being creative and strategic about how you want to position yourself should largely come from you.
Talk To More Than One Person
Most times, that first call leaves you with more questions and while it is of course a good idea to get back in touch to clarify, this is also a great opportunity to see what other firms have to say. Not necessarily about your specific questions but the process overall, now that you are a little more informed. It's a way of screening potential attorneys if you decide to commit to the process of securing a long term visa.
How Do You Find An Attorney?
Where does one even start? Is Yelp the way? We're discussing this in detail along with every other CPT/OPT/O Visa related question over the next two episodes!