or Academic Job search for non-resident* foreign nationals in the US
In which @scitrigrrl discover one way that academics are like fashion models
DISCLAIMER: I am not an immigration lawyer, Tenure She Wrote does not have an immigration lawyer as a consultant, and what I have written here about visas is only the most cursory of notes about common things. If you have questions, concerns, worries about your immigration status, talk you the international center at your university (if you’re in the US), the International Center at your prospective institution, contact a US Consulate, or look at the USCIS website.
When @TenureSheWrote asked for reader questions, one that came up was this:
@TenureSheWrote Have you written anything on the academic job search in the US for non-citizens? Unique set of challenges
— Fiona Soper (@FionaSoper) July 15, 2015
As a foreigner in US academia, there are some interesting challenges that are not always obvious to US-nationals, and some of these can be surprising as a foreigner even after over a decade in the US, particularly at transition points along the career trajectory, such as applying for faculty positions** in the US.
For the most part, however, my experiences on the job market, my discussions with other foreigners and Americans on the market at the same time, and now reviewing job applications, suggest that there are only a few truly non-citizen specific issues. There are more that are variations-on-a-theme-of-job hunting.
The first two (related) things are this: Get familiar with the structure of US departments and universities, and familiarize yourself with the job search process. The easiest ways to do this are (1) to talk to people – your PI, other mentors in the department, new faculty are particularly good sources for job search specifics; and (2) read the internet. I highly recommend @doc_becca’s Job Search Aggregator. And I know that @genomedaddy has very recent posts since his successful search process.
Take comfort (or despair) in the fact that no-one else knows these things either and that the job application process is as frustrating, impenetrable, and foreign to most US nationals as it is for anyone else.
One thing that might be different is that even with over a decade here, some of us*** remain less familiar with all the different US universities and colleges****, so you might end up doing a little more digging into the university than those more familiar with school names. For example Northwestern University is different from Northeastern University*****, and although Northeastern is in the north east, Northwestern is not actually in the Northwest******.
Network. Network. Network. This is not at all specific to foreigners, but is particularly important for those who have come to the US as postdocs or are hoping to apply from another country. You may not have the same basis for a US-specific network as people who did their graduate work in the US. This is fixable. Meet people at all levels in your field at conferences. Stay in contact. Send your papers to people who have closely aligned research interests. Ask your mentors for introductions to others in the field. Apply to give talks at conferences. And twitter is your (very international) friend.
Have American academics look over your application materials. There is a lot of writing about yourself, your research, and often your teaching in job applications, and there is some expectation for a specific style of writing, style of self promotion. Just like everyone else on the job market, be sure to have others read through your materials. And just to be sure, have at least one American with some search committee experience read through so they know what to look for and any points of clarification.
And speaking of points of clarification, explain country-specific awards, grants, other honors that you have received, explain grades in any required transcripts. CVs often use a kind of shorthand – GPAs, NSF GFRP, NRSA, K99, an NIH score on a submitted grant – these are things that are clearly understood in the US. But (for example) an NHMRC grant? You might know it’s an Australian biomedical research grant, but your American readers probably don’t. Similarly a named PhD grant well known in the country you did your PhD might not be clear here in the US. Stating what it is and – if you can – the percent of applicants that receive them makes it easy to understand your acheivements for anyone reading the CV.
Another note for foreign students/postdocs – there are many training grants (NSF GFRP, for example, or NIH NRSAs) for which we are just not eligible, so often we have less “evidence of successful funding” on our CVs than our American counterparts. Your readers might not know this, so address it. State that as a foreign graduate student/postdoc you were not been eligible to apply for NRSAs, and follow that up with what successes you HAVE had, and what grants you have applied for. Evidence of writing applications is important, even if they have not been funded. Ask a letter writer (PhD or PostDoc mentor) to address this in their letter too, with a comment on your excellent writing abilities, any work you have done on grants for the lab, and that they have no doubt you will be able to write successful grants.
This general principal is true for everyone. Have your letter writer(s) address gaps or oddities in your application. If you are in a slow-to-generate-data field and that is why you have few publications from your post-doc, ask your post-doc mentor to write that. If you don’t have a letter from your graduate PI, have someone – preferably a thesis committee member – say why it’s not a red flag for your application.
Is the search committee less likely to select foreigners? In my experience******* on both sides of the job search process, the answer to this is a resounding NO. There has been no consideration of nationality/immigration status when looking at applications. When it has come up, it has been a version of wondering if the candidate is going to be willing to move to *this* institution or whether an offer closer to family (a consideration for all applicants) will be more appealing. I got asked variations on this theme a lot. I wasn’t applying to jobs in any other country, and I’d thought a lot about why (research reasons) I wanted to stay in the US in the long term. And more importantly, why I wanted to work at THIS particular institution. You can address this in your cover letter or research statement. And again, this is not foreign applicant specific – everyone SHOULD have a statement about why you want move to and work at this particular school.
Visa related things. I encourage you to contact the international center or HR at prospective institution and ask about sponsorship of visas and permanent residency for faculty is a conversation that is worth having at ANY institution. In addition, the US Citizenship and Immigration services (UCSIS) website is here.
One reason for the relatively relaxed stance on foreign applicants for positions in academia compared to other professions is that many positions fall under Specialty Occupations category, meaning that unlike some other types of employers, academic employees will be able to be granted these visas after the yearly cap for H1-B visas is reached (usually pretty early in the year). Because of this, the people hiring you (your department) doesn’t have to consider whether you will be able to get a visa as an issue, so will focus on what is important to them – your academic qualifications, research productivity, and teaching.
One thing to check: if you are already in the US on a J-1 visa, some – not all – are subject to a two-year home residency requirement before another visa can be issued. Check whether you are subject to this, and if so, if you are eligible for a waiver. Talk to your international office or UCSIS for more information (again: I am no expert).
As for permanent residency (green card), if you get a faculty job, the university will likely sponsor you for permanent residency. Be sure to ask. You should negotiate the cost of the green card in your start-up. University policies vary by institution, but definitely have that discussion. Remember: at this stage your department will be recruiting you. They want you to get your visa and greencard so you work there..
The bottom line here is that visas and immigration is complex (and takes more time photocopying documents than course prep). But universities have people whose job it is to work with international students and faculty. They will be the ones that know the university policies, the UCSIS policies, how long things take, what documents you need, and they are the ones that will be submitting visa applications on your behalf.
* Non-resident means working- or student-visa, but no greencard (permanent residency). Yes, that means even if we live in the US for years on various visas, without a greencard we are still “non-resident aliens”.
** I’m happy to talk about postdoc and grad school for foreigners as well. Let me know in the comments if you’re interested.
*** aka: Me
**** Follow March Madness Basketball Tournament to become familiar with some universities. Learn that Gonzaga is NOT a brand of blue cheese.
***** To be fair, I’ve heard plenty of American nationals get this wrong
****** It’s in Chicago.
******* Caveat: big research institutions. I cannot speak to small liberal arts colleges or small PUIs which may (or may not) be more limited in resources to support visa applications. I really do not know.
******** like fashion models!