If you are studying or applying for an MBA in your native land, skip this post, go home and make love to your passport.
I’m a limey by birth, and was lucky to get into Kellogg’s class of 2009. I was excited, but I had no inkling of how the visa process and dreaded words “administrative processing” would affect me over the coming years.
Home of the brave
We had people from all over the world at Kellogg – Brazil, France, Japan, Indonesia – you name it. Why did we all come to the U.S.?
- Most of the top MBA schools are in the US. There are exceptions, but not many.
- The US isn’t the wild west any more, but there’s a culture of entrepreneurship that’s hard to match.
- Even better, most Americans value ability above all else – it doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. For capable people, that’s attractive.
- Additionally in my case, I desperately wanted to see where they filmed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (it’s about 5 miles north of Kellogg).
Here’s the immigration path, if you’re intending to stay in the US after graduation.
- F-1 student visa for entry and your period of study.
- The F-1 will also cover your work during an internship (it’s called Optional Practical Training or OPT).
- When you graduate, you also have the ability to work for up to a year, still on your F-1 (it’s called Curricular Practical Training or CPT).
- Then, you’ll convert to an H-1B, which is a visa sponsored by and tied to your employment.
- Then a green card, which gives you general permission to work in and enter / leave the US as you please, but you will have to pay US taxes even if you leave and work elsewhere.
- Finally, if you’re big on Uncle Sam, you can become a citizen and gain the right to vote.
The F-1 student visa
The visa application process culminates in a visit to your local US embassy, where there’s some administration and a visa interview. Normally, they take your passport off you, stamp it with a visa and have it couriered back to you, ready for travel. In my case, they just handed it back to me, along with a little form that told me I was being checked out, and not in a nice way.
I was stunned – I went to a good school, I speak with a posh Oxbridge accent, and I’d visited the US before without anything nefarious happening. I mean, I persuaded Julie Richardson in 6th grade to show me her bra, but surely there was no way they would know that?
I waited anxiously for any news, spending my days hitting the refresh button on my email and reading about all the Kellogg classes I would miss if the visa didn’t appear. Very luckily, I got it 3 and a half weeks later, and squeaked into the class of 2009.
Others aren’t so lucky.
The H-1 working visa
I used my F-1 as fully as possible, covering my internship and one year of work after graduation. The H-1B is issued on a lottery basis – not everyone who wants one will get one – I got lucky, and received a lovely document from USCIS. All I had to do was report to the US embassy in London to get stamped, and I could return to continue nerding out about San Francisco being the future home of Starfleet Academy.
I duly reported. This time I expected no problems. I went to a good school, I spoke with a posh Oxbridge accent, I’d been living in the US for three years, and they’d already checked me out for the F-1. But noooo – I got my passport handed back to me, along with a little form telling me that they needed to check me out again. The visa interview officer flirtatiously assured me that it was just a formality, and the embassy has gotten a lot faster at these things. With spirits raised by the smile and wink he gave me on the way out, I waited expectantly. It would happen in the next few days – no, maybe next week – no, maybe the next couple of weeks?
I returned to the US around six months later.
There wasn’t much information around on this topic, so I wrote a detailed blog post about my experiences with the 221(g) administrative processing form. Many people have contacted me or shared their stories in the comments section – I’m not an isolated case. Some have it easier, some have it worse.
What you internationals need to know
If you’re interested in a U.S. MBA, you already know the advantages of going, and also the costs. Make sure you factor in the risk of visa problems before you go (so apply well in advance) and after you graduate. The U.S. can be a great place to live, but it’s still tough for foreigners.
This post was originally written for MBA-social.com, an online lifestyle magazine and survival guide written by and for MBAs from the nation’s top business school programs. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter for the latest in MBA news, advice, and lifestyle topics.