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FAQ 72:

Coming to America

Originally written: July 1, 2011. Latest update: November, 2012

In FAQ 48, I wrote about those dreams of working in Japan, and suggested some tips that would help. But lately I've gotten a lot of queries about people in other countries who want a fast route to jobs or internships here in America. I've gotten tired of repeating myself. And when that happens, it's time to write an FAQ. I just now submitted my July 2011 column, The Games Game: Coming to America, to the IGDA website. That one is written in "Dear Abby" format. This FAQ, on the other hand, is written in Q&A call-and-response format, and goes beyond the column, which has an imposed word count limit. Although this article is about coming to the USA, a lot of it probably applies equally to other countries as well.

I looked at the website of my first choice American employer, and they say that if i am eligible to work in USA, then they will consider my application. Does that mean I have to get the work visa first?

But then I checked the website of the American visa authority and read that if I had a work offer in writing, then I can get the visa. Do I understand correctly?
I don't know, I've never had to go on that website and apply for a visa to work in my home country. I suppose getting a job offer first is the main way most people get a work visa.*

That's difficult!
Oh my gosh, "difficult"!! That's the end of the world! How does the universe expect poor widdle you to get anything difficult done? Look, everything about what you want to do is difficult. You can't expect the universe to bend itself and make everything easy for you! "Difficult." Sheesh!

Does the employer really want me to have a work-permit prior to application? Maybe I just misunderstood the wording on their website?
You know the answer, but you don't WANT to know it. If A exists, THEN B can occur, they're saying. But if you want to clarify whether or not this classic chicken-and-egg problem really holds sway, you shouldn't be asking ME. You should be calling THEM. You're engaging in wishful thinking now. "Maybe I just misunderstood," indeed. Check out what Dr. Laura said about hope in FAQ 47 (get to the other FAQs via the nav frame at left). The beginning of the quote is, "Hope is disappointment postponed." Idealistic wishing and hoping is not a plan. What you need is a realistic view of the world first; then you can start to make a plan.

But that's a chicken and egg conundrum! I can't get the visa unless I have a job, I can't get the job unless I have a visa... it's unfair!
Who said the world had to be "fair"? And besides, how is it "unfair"?
In a game of mah-jongg, only one of the four players can win. Does that mean the other three players have been treated unfairly?
Your first choice American employer is also the first choice of 199 other guys. The company gets 200 applications for one opening. Only one of those 200 applicants will get hired. Tell me, where's the "unfairness"? 199 guys won't get the job, and you'll be one of them since you don't have the work papers. That's not "unfair," that's "reality." The guy who gets the job doesn't see any unfairness. I don't see an unfairness. The employer doesn't see an unfairness. Does an unfairness really exist if not everybody can see that it exists? Crying "unfair!" is a childish, petulant response to reality. You need to move beyond that. You need to grow up.

Okay, never mind, forget I said it was unfair. But you have to agree that American companies' insistence on my getting a visa first shows that American companies are prejudiced against foreigners.
No, I don't. I have to chide you again for drawing a wrongheaded, self-centered, childish, petulant conclusion. American game companies are not maliciously acting to prevent foreigners from gaining jobs or internships. There is a perfectly good reason why they don't welcome applications from foreigners without legal working status. Every American game company (even the smallest ones) are constantly deluged with applications, not only from foreigners, but also from highly qualified citizens and locals. Looking at your application, the fact that you're all the way around on the other side of the planet, knowing that they can't ask you to come in for an interview the next day, they understandably prefer the local candidates whose qualifications are just as good or even better. Locals need no complicated paperwork, no long wait, and are much less risky (since there can be an in-person interview before hiring).

They should give me a break.
They should "give you a break"?? Bull$#!+! Game companies are not in business to give wannabes a break. They're in business to make money. That means they need new employees who can start off running and don't need a lot of handholding. Get your head out of the clouds.

You're being mean. Let me put it a better way. They should take a chance on me! I'm special. It's just that I haven't had a chance to show it yet. How can I show it if nobody will give me a chance?
You've acknowledged that there is risk involved for someone. It's a risk for you to go through the extraordinary task of somehow finding a way to get to America with legal work status, without the guarantee of a job. And it's a risk for a game company to go through the extraordinary task of getting legal working papers for you, without you having any proof of your specialness, and without even having met you face to face to see how well you'll fit into their team. You think they should bend over backwards for you! You think it is they who should take all the risk! That's backwards. The risk has to be on you.

Yes, okay, so I can't fly all the way around to the other side of the world for a two-hour interview. But surely they could easily interview me by phone.
Phone interviews are a distant second-best interview method. They're used to pre-screen finalist candidates, not as a substitute for in-person interviews.

There must be a way to overcome the chicken and egg conundrum! I heard about a guy for whom a game company processed the paperwork, and sponsored him, paid for his relocation. How do I do that?
There are always exceptional candidates, people for whom the hirer will bend heaven and earth to bring aboard. I don't know about this guy you heard about, but he must have done something exceptional. You said above "I just haven't had a chance to show I'm special yet." Make your own chance. If you create the next Angry Birds, and it becomes a worldwide smash, then all the game companies will fight each other to woo you. All you have to do is create the next Angry Birds first.

Where can I get a list of American game companies that accept foreign applicants?
Sorry. Nobody can make a list like that. Each company's policies change all the time. They change when managers change, they change when projects begin and end, they change seasonally. Besides, no company would turn down a perfectly good applicant just because he speaks with an accent or comes from a different culture.
What you really need is a list of American game companies. The challenge with making such a list, and keeping it up to date, is that new ones form all the time, and companies shut their doors all the time. I imagine it would be practically a full-time job for someone to try to maintain such a list. Just the same, you can find lists of game companies, on Wikipedia, GameDevMap, GameIndustryMap, NeoSeeker, MobyGames, IGN, I have links to all of them on my Game Biz Links page. See the yellow nav frame at left. (If you don't see a nav frame at left, click the nav frame link at the very top of this page.) I imagine no one of those lists is totally up-to-date and complete, but you can make your own list by using all those lists and correlating them. When you find conflicting addresses, you'll have to see if one of them is more recent, or one of them is a satellite office versus the main HQ (headquarters) office... It's called "research," and it's an important part of any job search.

Namaste, Mr. Tom. I'm a different fellow, not the same person above who asked all those questions that annoyed you so much. I have an entirely different question. Instead of a job, all I'm seeking is an internship. Surely the advice you gave above doesn't apply to my situation, correct?
Wrong. There's no difference whatsoever between a foreign job candidate and a foreign internship candidate. Every single thing I said above applies to you equally well.

But the risk is smaller for an intern than for a permanent position.
Yes, but the amount of paperwork for a work visa is exactly the same either way.

Where can I get a list of companies that offer internships?
There's no such list. See what I wrote about "lists of companies that accept foreign applicants." The answer is exactly the same. My advice is exactly the same.

What other constraints do you think i should be prepared to face?
You should expect that vague all-encompassing questions won't get good answers. Read FAQ 65. (And you should always capitalize the word "I.")

You shot down all the things I suggested. So, Mr. Smartypantsonfire, what do you recommend?
I recommend you stop looking for a fast route, and think longterm. Build your career and your credentials in your home country, or a country where you can more easily get a game job. Build a body of work, make yourself someone desirable. After you've got an impressive enough résumé, you'll find less resistance. Being a foreigner with an awesome résumé is entirely different from being a foreigner with nothing more than starry eyes and a rainbow coming out your ears.


* Maybe getting the job offer first is the way most people get a visa, but maybe it's not the only way to get one. I don't know anything about this myself (my job is making games, not getting people work visas), but maybe you need to work harder at finding out everything you can about getting legal work status here.

Others before you have figured out how to get visas; those others make a good impression by their resourcefulness, their tenacity. Rather than whining about unfairness, those others found legal ways to go under, around, over, or through the seemingly impenetrable barriers. Then they can show up for an in-person interview on short notice; if they've got decent qualifications (matching or exceeding the local competition), they could well get the position. As I said, there's no anti-foreign prejudice here.

All game companies are willing to hire foreigners with legal work status. And most companies are willing to take on interns. But very few are anxious to put in the extra effort required to hire overseas candidates. So you just have to work harder, target wisely, and find your own way beyond the barriers.

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© 2011, 2012 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.

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