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How International Students Can Land U.S. Internships

Every week, Ed gets quite a few questions from whippersnappers outside the U.S. looking to land their dream internship at an American magazine. He knows that when it comes to interning in the U.S., things can get a bit tricky, so he talked to Charles M. Goldsmith, an immigration lawyer at Garganigo, Goldsmith & Weiss in New York City, to get the scoop on how international students can get their foot on the door. Here’s a checklist that will help you figure out whether you’re eligible to intern in the U.S.

Q: Is your home country part of the Visa Waiver Treaty program?
If yes: Through this program, the United States Government allows citizens of approved countries, most of which are of high-income economies, to travel to America for business or pleasure for up to 90 days without having to first apply for a visa at an American consulate. These approved participants include Ireland, Italy, France, Spain, United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia.

If no: “Somebody who is not from a Visa Waiver country will have to go to an American consulate and apply for the appropriate visa,” says Goldsmith. Consulates are U.S. state department offices located throughout the world. The officers will examine your application, conduct an interview, and determine whether they believe you will actually be interning and not just offering free labor. They must also be convinced that you are likely to return to your home country by looking at your overseas job, education, family ties, ownership of property, etc.

The TN1 Visa may be appropriate for a technical publications writer who is a citizen of Mexico or Canada and he/she can actually work and be paid.

Q: How long do you plan on staying in the United States?
If you’re taking on a 2-3 month unpaid internship for educational purposes, then the B-1/B-2 Visa is the best choice for you. This option requires that the person not be paid in the U.S. and not be engaged in employment during his or her time here. Luckily, travel expense reimbursements and cost of living may be permitted under the B-1/B-2 (for example, you would be able to receive Conde Nast’s $12 daily travel stipend). “If the purpose is to expose this person to something typically American, and let them gain a certain familiarity with how things are done here, then they can get the B-1/B-2 Visa,” explains Goldsmith.

Under the B-Visas there is no restriction on time spent at the office. “There’s no limit on hours since the person is volunteering their time as opposed to getting paid for productive employment,” says Goldsmith.

Q: Is there a salary involved with the position?
If yes, then a TN, J or H-1B Visa, which allows for productive employment and a salary in the U.S., may be your best bet. This option requires a training program and an actual offer of employment and salary, whereas the B-1/B-2 is appropriate for an observational internship.

The J Visa requires that the intern have an actual approved overseeing organization called a J Sponsor. A sponsor may not always be the company hiring the intern. For example, some non-profit corporations like Apex USA Inc. are set up to provide cultural exchange between American and foreign university students. If a magazine publisher is interested in becoming a sponsor, a human resources representative will work with an immigration lawyer to screen the foreign volunteer and determine which visa is the most suitable.

Q: What is your credibility as an individual?
Your education, employment history, property, and home country all factor in to whether an American consulate will grant you a visa. “If a person is studying journalism in England and wants to come here for a three-month training program at a magazine, the government is more likely to issue them a visa than someone who has been unemployed for three years,” explains Goldsmith. As mentioned above, the consul is primarily concerned with the details in an applicant’s paperwork and the likelihood that he or she will return to their home country after the internship has been completed.

There you have it: the very basics. Just remember, Ed is not an expert on immigration law! Since each and every circumstance out there is different, Ed strongly advises you to book an appointment with an immigration lawyer to find out more specific details.

Good luck!

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