Working abroad on a visa posted on 17 April 2024

If you grew up outside the US and are a (aspiring?) software engineer, it is very tempting to consider moving to the US as they have very high compensations and interesting opportunities. One thing to keep in mind is that working there means requiring a visa.

There are 2 aspects of getting a visa to work in the US that are worth knowing. Note that I’m not an immigration attorney so this post is obviously not legal advice, but I’ll talk about H1B and L1 visas even though there are other avenues (but more rare, like O1).

Getting a visa isn’t that easy:

  • If you want a H1B visa, you have to find a company willing to sponsor you and go through the lottery. This results in a significant risk for the company – they are unsure if you will be able to work for them in the US.
  • If you want a L1 visa, you have to work at least a year for this company outside the US.

Working with a visa is a precarious situation now

  • You can get fired at any time in the US. In the past software companies were doing extremely well and as long as you were a high performing engineer, you wouldn’t have to worry too much (especially if you are in a large company). This is definitely not true anymore – software companies have been laying offs people (Tesla just laid off 14,000 employees). In practice you can lose your job just because you were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • If you lose your job, you have to find another one to maintain your visa

    • If you are on L1, it’s honestly kind of impossible. You can’t work for another company, so you have to find a similar job in the same company.
    • If you are on H1B, you can stay in the country for 60 days unless you can find another job. If you can’t get a job, you have to leave the country but can keep applying jobs after (you still hold your H1B)

While your life is likely not at risk, being laid off/fired would be a very stressful and unpleasant situation if you are a visa holder. This can be worse if you own a property, have kids etc. similarly, I’m not saying you should work abroad but just that you should consider the risk discussed here.

The only good advice I can give is that if you are in (or going to) the US, you should start your permanent residency process (green card) as soon as possible even if you don’t have long term plans (life happens 🙂). A weight would be lifted from your shoulders once you get it.

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