If I personally have learned one thing from my adventure abroad, it’s I had very little idea about what I was getting myself into moving abroad. Different cultures and accents asides, the important yet often dry legal side of those adventures have costed me more sleepless and tearful nights than I would want to admit.
Living in the U.S., I got the taste for how life in the “land of the free” could be like (Not entirely free since international students are not technically allowed to work at all or just limited to on campus work) and I wanted to stick around for a bit – not forever per se but just enough to have a couple years of experience and then move back to Europe.
Thinking of moving to the States? Here are some tips, I would have wished someone had told me:
First and foremost, Preparation
Read up on visas before you decide to make a life changing decision. Which ones can you qualify for? Are there deadlines you need to keep in mind? What documents do you need?
This is the biggest mistake you can make. Living in your dreamlike bubble until it burst: Personally, I wasn’t eligible for the visa I thought would open all the doors for me. If you are like me and only have a diploma (Hi, Miami Ad Students!), you can rule out the H1B visa (the general skilled working visa) altogether. “The attainment of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent as a minimum” is a requirement.
You will need to get an employer to like you – a lot. “Showing that the wage is at least equal to the prevailing wage and wages paid to others in the company in similar positions” is another mandatory. Coming out of uni, this might be a tricky one to justify to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If your future employer already likes you enough to sponsor your visa, this should not be a problem though.
H1Bs get filed in April and issued for the following October. It’s basically a lottery, so even if you’re lucky enough to have found an employer who goes through the process with you (this will include lawyers and such). You may still be out of luck here.
But if this doesn’t sound all too appealing, don’t worry. This is not the only option.
Werk, werk, werk
This should be a given but working hard and producing good, interesting (and award-winning) work is going to help you in your career.
While a great number of my fellow students were able to stay in the US with one visa or another (most of them got an O1), I don’t think this is the norm.
The O1 has the best title. You would become an ‘Extraordinary Alien’. And so need to be just that. You are the Beyonce of the advertising world and really this visa is only for Senior/ Creative Directors but it has been known for others to hire the ‘right’ lawyers to make this happen. You would need a hefty amount of awards, be featured in a ton of articles, and have done lectures and talks etc.
Another reason it is a tricky one is because it is a good path to a Green Card. There have been some very rare cases of self sponsorship, but let’s just say that it’s probably the most costly thing you’ll ever buy second to getting a mortgage! If your daddy has a big bank account though, you might just be really lucky (and spoiled, sorry)!
The O1 is generally sponsored by the agency, who then get some great lawyers and then kill a rainforest to get the amount of awards, recommendation letters, features etc just to prove your awesomeness out there to the USCIS.
Do your time in the UK
One of the easiest ways to get to the US is actually by working in the UK first. The L1 is the interagency transfer visa. This is the best visa as you’ll already have proved your awesomeness to your UK agency and so it’s just a case of do they want to let you go to the other side! To qualify for this beauty of a visa, you need to have worked in the UK side of the agency for a year or over. So if your plan is to go to the States, do your research, go to an agency that is known to do this and get in there. It’s self-explanatory but the bigger the agency, the more likely this option gets.
This might sound easy but everyone has their eye on this bad boy so you’ll have to make your case a good one and work your arse off to show you are the bees knees.
Pull the British card
The E2 is (in the least amount of words) is ‘The British company in America’ one. This visa is great if you are looking at e.g. WPP agencies. They basically bring in a certain amount of dollar dollar bills to the States and so they get an alternative visa scheme. It’s fairly quick and WPP agencies have a good understanding in this department, so you can put your feet up on this one. Of course, agencies will have a bank of how many visas they would go for a year as it is costly. For this visa, you also have to be ‘managing’ others under you, so it is probably more for really strong midweight/senior upwards.
The short trip
The J1 is a great way to get to the states if you are planning on just staying for 18 months. You only need to have a degree and one year worth of agency experience, meaning that this could be your ticket to the big apple or other advertising cities! This is a trainee visa and so after the 18 months you are expected to go back, but others have been known to go onto the H1B or O1 from this. The cost is a little cheaper and takes around 4 to 6 weeks to get, you cannot self-sponsor on this visa though, you have to be sponsored by an agency.
Patience young padawan
The advertising scene in America, especially in places like NYC and LA, might be oh-so amazing, but getting there is mostly not. It takes time, money, nerve and patience. So why not try out something else while you wait? There are great industries out there in Europe which you do not need a visa for (for now at least…)! Especially places like Amsterdam have shown a great deal of excellent work for a while now. Who knows, maybe it was just the itch for something different that made you think of moving to the States and not the States itself!
Things you can do right here and now:
If this sounds all a bit too much to handle right now, here are some things you can do right now while you’re still in the UK:
Enter. Every. Single. Award. Show. Now.
I was always an advocate for “Awards aren’t as important as everyone makes them up to be”. They are in this case. You want to prove to your (future) employer that you’re worth the hassle and awards kind of have “success” written black and white all over them. (Please do work you love first and foremost though. Great work will be rewarded!)
Self-promotion is key.
In Britain, we do not self-promote ourselves nearly half as much as Americans do. There’s a fine line between posting every single article your project has been featured in on Facebook and getting the attention from the people you want to get the attention from. LinkedIn and Twitter are good old platforms to praise yourself as they are more public and business-like. Your friend from primary school probably does not care about your ad, the recruiter from the agency you really like might though.
I wouldn’t go so far to say side projects will get you your dream job, but they can get people’s attention. Maybe you’re a stand-up comedian at night (most of the time copywriters) or you take amazing photos. Either way, be vocal about it – social media is your friend.
Nothing is more valuable than a good network, especially if you want to go abroad. You never know who might know someone who knows someone on a different continent.
Get your business card (or equivalent) ready and mingle at networking events or talks.
You might also be able to go back to your university (once you’ve been in the industry for a couple of years) and do lectures yourself or maybe you get the chance to talk about that one or the other thing you did at work (or on the side) at a talk yourself. (This definitely is a plus when it comes to the O1, but also in general a great extracurricular add-on to your CV by the way.)
Most universities also organise networking events which are a great way to meet alumni and other people in the industry. Especially advertising schools like Bucks or Miami Ad School have quite tight-knit alumni.
Once you build up a network, it’s important to foster it. Keep in touch with creative directors you admire or recruiters who might keep you in mind for opportunities abroad. Following up is basically part of advertising etiquette.
Some things to be aware of when you get there…
Job titles are different there. You go up the career ladder a lot quicker, so when you apply for jobs, make people feel like you’re higher up when you think.
Also, years pass a lot quicker than in England. Not literally, but they do. Don’t ask me why.