Exemptions in the USA visa system make it easier for mobile scientists looking for work in the USA.
Contributor Susan Gelman
Unfortunately, they are in high demand and granted in limited quantities in the corporate world. Each year, only 85,000 H1-B visas are allotted. By the first fiscal week of 2015, the U.S. government had received 230,000 petitions.
Fortunately there are loopholes (officially known as exemptions) to circumvent the quota, and an extremely important one is the academic exemption. This allows industry employers and universities to collaborate. Here the university can nominally hire an employee for part-time work, and the industry employer files for the visa. Some Boston-based universities are beginning to explore this option by renting out science centres for profit and in return allowing employers to piggyback off of university visa capabilities; other states are in the process of proposing similar models. Immigration attorney Richard Iandoli, who led the workshop, emphasized that while immigration policies are in desperate need of updating, these loopholes can be extremely useful. “The exemptions aren’t big enough, but they are significant enough.”
There are also several alternatives to the H1-B. One that is particularly suited to researchers and medical specialists is the O-1 visa, for persons of extraordinary ability. This is a temporary work visa and must be sponsored by a U.S. employer for an “event,” which can include research projects, lecture series, and conferences. There is no quota for O-1 visas and they can be valid for up to three years, depending on the employer. However the application process is onerous: several criteria hinge on both national and international recognition. Iandoli suggests focusing on a few key points: having judged the work of peers (via ad hoc review or grant review) and original scientific contributions (publications, with preferably 100 citations). Fortunately this visa has a 90% approval rate.
Below are some highlights from the Q&A section.
Q: What is the recommended timeline for visas?
A: The more time you spend preparing, the better. Some waivers can take up to one year. It depends on the type of waiver and types of bureaucracy involved. Start putting things in a file as soon as possible.
Q: If you are paid by a grant, does that count as being paid by the U.S.?
A: Not necessarily. The grant could go to your principal investigator before it goes to you.
Q: If you are not selected for an H1-B visa, what are your options?
A: Go for a higher degree, go abroad and get experience at a sister company, or get another optional practical training (OPT). [F-1 status students can remain in the country for one more year on a student visa.] Trying for a B-1 in lieu of H1-B could potentially yield a 6-month visa. It is also possible to get OPT for each level of study, i.e. bachelors, masters, Ph.D.
Q: For a PhD student on a five-year I-20 visa, does OPT begin after five years or at the date of graduation?
A: OPT begins with the completion of the programme, within 90 days before or 60 days after completion.
Q: For people that want to start their own companies after being on an F-1 visa, what is recommended?
A: Form the company during OPT, then that company can potentially file for an H1-B. This is allowed, but not liked by immigration departments. You have to show that you can potentially be fired from your own company, or have a board of directors that have sway. Self-sponsorship is not permitted.