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I have plans to apply for some TT positions in the US. However, I'm Brazilian and I don't even have a visiting visa. I've never been to the US.

Therefore the whole immigration process is mainly unknown to me, with the exception of a small amount of information I managed to gather online.

Ignoring the CV, merits, etc, which I know play a decisive part in the TT hiring process, my question is :

How much the immigration hassle can change the outcome of the hiring process?

Just to clarify further, I'm interested in the immigration factor only. Is it relevant?

Of course, a foreign superstar would be good enough reason to overcome these obstacles, but I'm no superstar and I was wondering where they draw the line, if it is even worth to do the applications... (If you are extra curious, my scholar : https://scholar.google.com.br/citations?user=0D1ExLoAAAAJ)

Possibly related: Is it more difficult to score a Tenure Track position in the US when applying from outside?

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    ...if it is even worth to do the applications... --> Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I'm no expert in this area (I'm also a U.S. citizen), but to some extent you'll never know what's possible unless you at least try. I know for a fact that at my current school, most of the postdocs I work with as a grad student are from various foreign countries (Italy, France, Switzerland, India, Pakistan, etc.). All of them had to have visas worked out - so it's definitely not impossible. – tonysdg Nov 13 '15 at 19:24
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    @tonysdg Yes, but getting a postdoc is considerably easier. Grants are easier to get, a J1 visa is reasonably easy to get. TT is another matter entirely... – Fábio Dias Nov 13 '15 at 22:15
  • @JeffE, I meant immigration institutions, reinforcing the fact that I haven't set foot in the US yet. I do have a webpage and publications in top tier venues, including in collaboration with US researchers. The focus of my question is the immigration part. I know of US companies that don't even try to hire foreigners unless they are superstars, because of the hassle and shortage of h1b visas, for instance. – Fábio Dias Nov 14 '15 at 13:13
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    I don't know a lot about this subject, but one thing is that you should not extrapolate the hiring issues for US companies to universities. One major difference is that there is a "cap" on the number of H-1B visas issued annually, but universities are exempt from this cap. – Nate Eldredge Nov 14 '15 at 14:03
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    My impression is that large universities usually have staff members whose duties include arranging visas for foreigners. I don't claim all these staff members are competent (I know of one counterexample, from many years ago), but I think the vast majority are competent. In my own department, I've never heard, in conversation about hiring at any level, any worries about visas. – Andreas Blass Nov 14 '15 at 14:20
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This question is about visa issues, which aside from being a legal matter are notoriously fraught with subtle technicalities, to the extent that even a lawyer may need many very specific details in order to answer a question on the subject. So let me start by saying that I am not a lawyer, nor a person with expertise on immigration matters, nor someone agreeing to be held responsible for any advice I am offering here. I am just a friendly person with an opinion, which I am happy to offer. I am also currently a department chair at a large U.S. university, so have a bit of experience dealing with visa-related questions on the hiring side.

The main points that I think are relevant for your question are the following:

  1. As Nate Eldredge commented, U.S. universities are not subject to the quota system for H-1B visas. When a university wants to hire a foreigner, they can sponsor them for an H-1B visa. Assuming you are qualified, and assuming that the NSA doesn't know anything bad about you that we don't, I don't see a reason why it should be even remotely a problem for you to obtain a working visa for the U.S.

  2. It is true that sponsoring a new faculty member for a visa costs money. I don't know exactly how much; the $20K figure mentioned by RoboKaren sounds too high to me, but for argument's sake let's assume that it is correct. Well, although it is objectively not a small amount of money, it is in fact very small if you compute it as a percentage of the cost of employing a faculty member. At a good research university, a new faculty member in CS (not my area, but close enough for me to know something about) will typically be offered a startup package of at least $50-100K, and possibly quite a bit more, to pay for startup costs such as relocation, buying some equipment (computers, and other things depending on the kind of work the faculty member does), and to allow paying for travel to conferences, hiring research assistants and such for a year or two until the person is able to secure some grant funding. And then there is the cost of the faculty member's salary, which will be paid indefinitely until he or she retires.

    The point is that when you consider the hypothetical $20K expenditure in the context of the total benefit a good researcher brings to the institution, and the total cost of their employment, the $20K is actually a trivial amount of money. For a serious university, even a poor one, I think it is a no-brainer that it is worth making the effort to hire the best possible person for the job, even if that requires a modest extra investment of that sort, compared to hiring a U.S. citizen for whom that expense is not needed but who is slightly less qualified. I have never heard of a department that made the opposite calculation, and I have never heard of a foreign researcher at the tenure-track level who experienced difficulty being hired because of immigration issues. That does not mean such things don't happen, but if they do then that would be outside the realm of my own experiences.

  3. Lastly, you mention that you have never visited the United States. Although you asked specifically about visa issues, and my opinion is that visa issues are mostly or entirely irrelevant to your situation, I think it's worth mentioning that the fact that you've never visited the U.S. is in my opinion (very) relevant to your situation, and is a much bigger complication and potential hindrance to your job applications than anything related to visas. It's not that I think there's anything wrong with not visiting the U.S. -- far from it -- but I do think your lack of familiarity with the U.S. and its culture could be a real problem both when you come for an interview and if and when you move here after getting a position. The very fact of your applying for a high-level position in a country you have never visited could appear quite strange to people considering your applications, leading them to question how well you are likely to fit in at their department and institution. I don't know how much thought you've given to this issue, but I would strongly suggest that if you have a serious goal of securing a tenure-track position in the U.S., if at all possible one of the first steps in your plan should be to arrange to first of all visit the U.S. for a reasonably long period of time, say a month or two, and visit at least a couple of different geographical parts of the country, and certainly include some universities in your visit so that you can experience first-hand what academic life in the U.S. is like.

    Note that I absolutely don't mean for this part of my answer to be read as in any way a criticism of your desire to move to the U.S. or of your never having visited. I am merely saying that coming for an extended visit first will (in my opinion) make you a much better job prospect and a much better interviewee, in a way that I think you cannot appreciate given your lack of U.S. experience. By the way, although this opinion I'm expressing is specific to the U.S. and is not entirely symmetric with respect to countries, it would definitely apply in many other analogous situations; for example, I have never been to Brazil, and if I were to apply for a tenure-track position in Brazil without visiting first, my guess is that my lack of Brazilian experience (separately from my lack of knowledge of Portuguese) could be a serious disadvantage for my applications. (Though, of course, never having been to Brazil, I cannot be sure if that is indeed the case... :-) )

  • I'm accepting this answer, for it seems to be the most complete yet, but the other answers are also relevant. Just a side note, one of the top 2 universities in CS here just hired a professor with zero brazilian experience/portuguese, but, in general, you are not wrong. And I'm on the process of securing funding for a 1 year postdoc somewhere, possibly US or Canada, exactly for #3. Thanks for all the answers. – Fábio Dias Nov 15 '15 at 12:50
  • I would like to add to @DanRomik 's point #3 here. I have been interviewed for TT or equivalent positions at universities in several other countries where I have never been to before the interview (South Africa, New Zealand, Canada (if you count it as a separate country from the US!), etc.). All these were globally top ranked universities. I am no superstar in my field either, and local cultures, traditions, funding procedures are certainly different from those in the US. However, I have certainly (personally, no data) notice a big bias for TT positions in the US against those not been to US. – John Mar 25 '16 at 15:34
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I've taught at both large R1 universities and small liberal arts colleges. For the large R1s, we don't care -- we simply want the best person for the job, regardless of their nationality. R1s have very competent foreign scholar offices and lawyers who know how to do the proper visa paperwork.

At smaller schools, it's more difficult. Budgets are tighter and the provost has more say over searches. If there are two candidates that are almost equally ranked, then the provost may suggest one over the other for non-academic reasons. There may not even be approval for international airfare for job candidates at the interview stage.

You have to remember that an H1B application will cost at least $10,00-$20,000 in lawyer's fees, staff time, and application costs. The stack of paperwork for the Department of Labor certification itself is about 3 inches thick. Furthermore, even though there is an exemption, sometimes H1B applications can be very, very slow -- which means that an instructor hired in March might not be able to join the campus by August. This can be deadly for a small school that needs its faculty present.

tl;dr Be the absolute best candidate possible for the position and the visa status won't matter. Otherwise, it is a factor amongst other factors.

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    At my institution the cost of applying for a visa comes out of the department budget, so there is strong incentive to not pick a candidate who needs to be sponsored for a visa. – Brian Borchers Nov 14 '15 at 21:18
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    Wow, that seems like a system specifically designed to make sure you won't ever hire a foreigner. :-( I'm in a rich department and even then, $20k is a lot of money. – RoboKaren Nov 14 '15 at 23:33
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    "There may not even be approval for international airfare for job candidates at the interview stage." This exactly has happened to me, but at a smaller research university, not a SLAC. Worrying about 500 USD of additional costs during a TT search seemed so supremely strange to me that I sincerely hope that this was just an excuse. – xLeitix Mar 25 '16 at 17:12
  • Considering exactly these comments, I applied to express entry and got Canadian PR. After that, I got one interview, but no offer. I was in the US at the time, near the border, and I got a feeling that it was a helpful factor. Now I just need to improve my CV :) – Fábio Dias Jul 26 '17 at 3:08
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Caveat: I'm a US citizen, so my experience with this is from the hiring side and from discussions with colleagues who are not US citizens.

The short answer is that it will not change things very much. All of the hiring processes I've been involved with paid absolutely no attention to a candidate's citizenship status. That doesn't guarantee this is true everywhere, but in most cases, I don't think it's a big issue. Universities have it much easier than almost any other employer under US immigration law (for example, they have an exemption to the H-1B cap), and while there will be a fair amount of legal runaround, I've never personally known someone hired to a TT job in the US who wasn't able to take the job for immigration reasons.

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At R1 places, especially, there are very experienced people one of whose primary jobs is to take care of visas. Faculty don't worry about that.

The issue is not so much visas for working here, but that interviews become much more complicated. These days, I think most tenure-track hires (at R1's, at least) include visits to campus for several days, during which the candidate gives talks, goes to lunches and dinners with various faculty, and so on. If you're not already in the U.S. or close by, the airfare may (depending...) be crazily more expensive.

Another impediment for people far away, larger than visas, is experience with the U.S. system in general (students' attitudes, service, etc). There is concern that people who've not done post-docs in the U.S. or not done graduate work here might be unhappy with U.S. students' attitudes (whether or not they're able to adapt to these attitudes).

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    For example, at my institution we'll only pay for domestic travel for a candidate to come to campus to interview. If you're currently outside the U.S., you'd have to pay your own way to say New York. As a practical matter everyone we've interviewed in recent years has already been working in the U.S. – Brian Borchers Nov 14 '15 at 21:15
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There's a second visa issue that hasn't been mentioned (because it doesn't apply to most applicants). You're not in the US and Brazil is not a visa waiver country. This means that you will need a temporary visa in order to go to an interview. (I think a B-1, but I am not a lawyer.) It is not unusual to be invited to an interview on insufficient notice to get a new visa. If you think you have a serious shot at a US job, then I would try to get a temporary multiple-entry visa in advance of interview season.

  • While we're on the subject of Brazil and visas, US citizens should be aware that (unlike the rest of non-Venezuala South America) Brazil requires advance non-electronic visas for US citizens. – Noah Snyder Nov 15 '15 at 14:43
  • Yes, you need a b1/b2 visa. But the average processing time is around 10 days.... Is it normal to schedule interviews with less than 2 weeks heads-up? – Fábio Dias Nov 23 '15 at 3:37
  • Typically you should get enough notice for a 10 day turnaround, though personally I'd be worried about a delay and would want to find a way to play it safer. – Noah Snyder Nov 23 '15 at 5:10
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For immigration purposes, you do not really need the university to sponsor you and go through H-1B route. If you have good credentials, you can always sponsor yourself and apply for EB2-NIW (which is designed for advanced degrees holders!). You can even apply from outside the US.

For TT positions, most applicants in my field (Engineering) are international students on F1 visa (some might have J1 visa, but that is a different story). Most of the time, fresh graduates will require some sort of immigration sponsorship if they get hired. Keep in mind that many PhD holders (if they have high credentials) will choose to go with EB1, EB2-NIW routes rather than the H-1B visa since it is much faster, cheaper and basically designed for them.

If I remember correctly, professors hired by universities are more likely to apply for immigration under EB1 category. PhD students/post docs will go with EB2-NIW. In theory a PhD holder who works as a professor in a university can apply under EB2-NIW and EB1 (two seperate applications) and at the same time. The main differences between these categories is related to having a contract (i.e., position as in an assistant professor for EB1 or self-sponsoring as in EB2-NIW). Additional information can be found on the USCIS website.

I hope this helps!

  • Indeed. I just found out about EB GC from another thread, this week. A little weird nobody mentioned here before. Probably I didn't formulate the question properly... It just leaves a harder, more philosophical question, how good is good enough for NIW? – Fábio Dias Mar 25 '16 at 15:10
  • To be honest, it varies a lot from a case to case. Your best bet is to consult with an immigration lawyer (many offer free consultation). Basically, if you are in a STEM program, you will need to send the lawyer your CV, publication list, awards, schools, patents if any and he/she may request other documents. They will go over your portfolio and give you three options; 1. Your application is strong and then you will pay the fees once you get your GC (once I-140 and 485 are approved). If you do not get it, you do not pay!, – The Guy Mar 25 '16 at 17:34
  • 2. Your application is somehow good and there is a chance to get your GC so you will have to pay 50% of fees upfront and if you don't get your GC, you do not pay. 3. Your application is weak and the attorney will advise you not to apply. Since the evaluation process is free, I advise you contact different lawyers and get as many feedback as you can then go from there. I'm new to this forum so I do not know if I can post any details on the lawyer I used or if I can message you. But a simple google search with immigration lawyer (NIW) should be sufficient. – The Guy Mar 25 '16 at 17:34
  • Most lawyers post their success stories on their website so you can go through them and see each applicant's story and "how good is good enough". You will find that it is varies significantly (no. of publications can be 5 or 100!, citations 20-500, research topic, institution, so many variables), but it is worth the shot! You can also visit (trackitt, an independent (non profit) website dedicate so such cases). I hope this helps! – The Guy Mar 25 '16 at 17:34

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