Illustration by Gauraang Biyani

Inside Out: Interning in the U.S. as a Non-National

The difficulties and advantages of interning in the United States as a non-U.S. citizen.

Nov 12, 2016

At NYU Abu Dhabi, our mantra seems to be that we can do it all, all the time. Whether this means pulling all-nighters for exams or trying to be one of the few who get internships in the United States.
For a non-U.S. citizen, trying to intern in the U.S. is a highly bureaucratic process. For instance, in order to obtain legal documentation to work in the United States, a non-U.S. citizen usually has to spend two semesters studying there.
International students who want to intern in the United States, while being on an F-1 visa, can either take part in unpaid internships or be eligible for Curricular Practical Training, a 12-month permission issued on an F-1 visa for students who take for-credit internships directly related to their majors, or Occupational Practical Training, which has similar conditions as the former except that the internship is not required to be for academic credit.
According to Associate Director of the Career Development Center Dana Downey, finding unpaid positions became of a series of lawsuits that exposed organizations using interns as free labor. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a factsheet clarifying the six conditions that any unpaid internship must meet to be legal.
NYUAD only supports visa applications for students who are applying for either F-1 visa extensions or for visas in New York and Washington D.C. This is because students who are doing unpaid internships can be enrolled in a zero-credit course at an NYU campus, which justifies an F-1 visa extension. For internships in cities that do not have an NYU campus, however, NYU cannot sponsor F-1 visa applications, and thus students are discouraged to apply for internships outside of New York and Washington D.C.
Geo Kamus, an alumnus from the NYUAD Class of 2016, succeeded in finding an unpaid opportunity in the U.S. during the summer of 2014. At the time he was in New York working for the RealAD show, and he was able to find an extra internship.
Kamus advised that interested students should not “hesitate to use their network to identify opportunities that may not necessarily be listed on public job websites.” Kamus said that an internship in the United States is valuable if you are planning to live and work there in the future. He also encouraged students who find beneficial opportunities in the United States to pursue them even if they are unpaid.
“NYUAD is incredibly generous with opening these opportunities to us,” said Kamus on the topic of summer funding available via the CDC.
When asked whether an unpaid internship in the United States is more valuable than a paid job or internship in one’s home country, he replied, “New York City isn't the be all, end all professional destination that NYUAD students seem to talk themselves into believing. With that said, if you found a dream internship in New York City that pays you, hallelujah honey.”
On the other hand, senior Lingliang Zhang managed to secure a paid internship in the United States. Zhang wasn’t actively seeking one in the U.S., because he was advised against it due to the potential visa issues. So he went to apply for an internship at Facebook in Australia, where they advised him to apply to the office in the U.S. and transferred his application there, assuring him that the visa issues could be easily resolved. After he got accepted, Palantir Technologies sponsored him, and he was thus eligible for a J-1 visa, which is a non-immigrant visa to the U.S. for individuals approved to participate in work-and-study-based exchange visitor programs. Companies that are part of this system are required to sponsor the approved individuals. Sponsors that take part in that program often have their own criteria for accepting people, but English proficiency is a necessity for all applicants.
Even though his internship endeavor proved to be simple, Zhang is still skeptical about working in the United States, considering the U.S. lottery system for H-1B work visas. This system puts applicants in a strange position, as Zhang describes it, because they are forced to find a job offer and hold on to that job until the lottery is done, which is only once a year.
While immigration visas are complicated, internships in the U.S. are easy, according to Zhang. As for the advantages of interning in the U.S., the pay is higher than in most other places, especially in the finance and technology industries. Moreover, since some of the major companies in the finance and technology sectors are headquartered in the U.S., the prospect of interning there comes with its own benefits.
“At the satellites, they’re always going to have the less important work, the program is not going to be as developed … you’re not going to see Mark Zuckerberg walking around the [Facebook office] in Germany!” said Zhang.
Junior Paula Dozsa, who interned at Google’s offices in both Munich and London, had a different opinion about working in smaller offices. According to Dozsa, the general sentiment of people who worked at the company’s headquarters in California before moving to the European offices was in favor of the satellites.
“Their main argument for this was that it was easier to develop relationships with coworkers, given the higher probability of bumping into them around the office,” said Dozsa.
Another reason why Dozsa and her colleagues appreciated satellite offices of U.S.-based companies was that working in offices outside Silicon Valley allowed people to better manage the balance between personal and professional lives.
Junior Cristian Muñoz is currently weighing out his internship options for the final summer before graduation. He said that having to plan your study abroad semesters carefully worries students more than the actual legal work required to intern in the U.S., as most of his class members had to choose between exploring NYU’s global sites and interning in the United States. To be eligible for a paid internship during the summer, one has to spend both fall and spring semesters of one’s junior year in New York or Washington D.C.
Muñoz acknowledged that sometimes one is rejected simply because a company is not able to sponsor one’s visa.
“It is frustrating to get rejected straight away by a good company just because they can't sponsor your application,” said Muñoz.
The experience of finding an internship in the United States and getting through the tedious visa procedures differs from one person to the next, depending on nationality and the time they have spent in the U.S. Regardless, while a global education can make you think like a citizen of the world, it won’t necessarily make you one. The opportunities behind those stacks of endless paperwork and non-existent visa stamps are not necessarily the best ones. And even if they are, if they are unattainable then maybe the best thing to do is to let go of the stress and just be realistic.
Dana Abu Ali is a contributing writer. Email her at
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