A quick overview
The visa system in the US is pretty complicated so it's worth a brief overview. Speaking as broadly as possible, if you want to work in the US, you'll need some sort of employment visa. These fall into two clades:
- Temporary working visas
- Permanent working visas
As I understand it, the process for permanent working visas is labyrinthine, and I don't know anyone who's pulled it off. You should definitely consult a lawyer, be both very rich and prepared to pay a lot of money if this is what you want. We'll only be considering temporary working visas here.
For most people, if you want to get hired in the US on a temporary working visa, you'll have to be sponsored by an employer before you apply for a working visa. Your options are many and varied, but if your intention is to get hired after Hack Reactor, you probably want one of
- TN (skilled worker in a specialty occupation from Canada or Mexico)
- E3 (skilled worked in a specialty occupation from Australia)
- H1B (skilled worked in a specialty occupation from anywhere else)
The two TLDRs
Don't operate under the assumption that you'll be able to get an H1B—It's effectively a lottery.
H1Bs have an annual limit of about 60,000. This is virtually guaranteed to be oversubscribed every year and there is an entire world of advice for people who want these. Be prepared to have a miserable time, and have the process take well over six months. You'd better have a bachelor's in CS to even be worth a shot, and even then, you can expect employers to be understandably disinterested because the cost of sponsoring an H1B can easily run into tens of thousands of dollars. I'm sorry. I really am. But this is the truth of it. Lawyers can work magic though, so if your heart is set on it, go ahead and try. Just be aware that if someone tells you that they can guarantee one for x thousand dollars, it's probably a scam.
If you have a BA/BS in a quantitative subject, an E3 or TN isn't too hard to get.
Your job has to be in a specialty occupation, and a "specialty occupation" is one that requires a bachelor's degree to qualify for. Now, the good news is that academic inflation and the general uselessness of undergraduate degrees has wrought the situation such that having any bachelor's degree at all is a tremendous help to your cause. The bad news is that most people are wise to this, and you should expect to do some legwork to justify your claim that your degree is related to your job.
I've got an E3 and know of several people who have, so I'm familiar enough with the system to share my two cents with the confidence that they won't be completely useless. I'm dimly aware that the requirements for TN are quite similar so some of the following may help you Mexinadians out there, too.
Getting an E3
Once you're legally inside the US, are confident that you know how to code, and are ready for some interviews, you'll have to line up some interviews. The problem, is that most employers (actually, basically all employers) haven't heard of E3s and don't know they exist. The limitations you'll face when job hunting then, are limited entirely by your ability to explain this blog post to human resources personnel and your interviewer. In theory, your options are limitless. In practice, your personality and selling skills count more than anything else. Any generalisations I make are really just an attempt at summarising the trends you might expect given the law the way it is.
Once you've lined up some interviews, here's how the system works:
You apply to a company for a particular job description, and you get a job offer. At some point in this process, you let them know that they'll have to fill out some paper work for you to get your visa, but that it'll cost them nothing.
You accept the offer, and they file for what's called an LCA (Labor Condition Application). For the purposes of your E3, this is to make sure that you're not being dramatically underpaid for the position you're applying for. You don't need to be in the US while they do this. If this works (it's pretty low risk, unless they're seriously underpaying you), your company's done everything it can to help you out, and you're on your own for step three.
You book an appointment at the US embassy in Aus, show up, and try to convince your interviewer that you have either a degree or twelve years of work experience relating to the job description you applied for in (1). It all boils down to these two minutes and how good you are at making your case.
Note that in this process, your company doesn't actually care about your qualifications for visa purposes—that's between you and the US consulate. If they're willing to 'sponsor' you for an E3 they're really going to have to trust that you know what you're doing.
Good luck y'all! If you have any questions about whether or not your degree in far-eastern floral arts will help you get a job as a software engineer, leave them in the comments and I'll offer as much moral support as I can muster.
Post Script: I've recently discovered that I left out L1 visas. Mostly anyone, from any country, irrespectively of educational attainment is eligible to be sponsored for one of these if they:
- Work(ed) for a multinational, that has an office in the US and is willing to sponsor you to live and work in the US, and
- you've worked for them for at least one year in the last three years as either a manager, executive, or specialist (in your case, software engineer).
L1 visas are great because they're also dual-intent. I.e., you can apply for a green card once you're in the US, if all goes well. I know of one HR grad who's gone this route and is working in the US right now, so it's not unheard of =)