Through fact of enrollment and sheer numbers, the majority of my students as an Adjunct Professor teaching Medical Device Development courses have been from India. I frequently give them advice on how to find their first jobs working on medical devices and how to interview for positions as research scientists, quality engineers, regulatory associates, and even the occasional medical device project manager. What makes me sad many times is the limited scope of my advice as it applies to foreign students from outside the USA. If you were born in the US or otherwise have citizenship, landing your first medical device job can be challenging. As a non-citizen, non-permanent resident, it is exponentially harder.
In this article, I want to give my experience on guiding a person through the process of getting an H1-B to allow them to work in a device company. Before I begin, I will say that I am not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice. What I am doing here is merely recounting my experience because it will reveal to others some things they may not have known regarding what it is like to do this.
In 2009, I met a student in one of my classes and invited him to apply for a position where I worked. As a citizen of India, he was attending school on an F1 visa. That visa allowed him to work as an intern for a little while after graduation, but not long. He had to start the H1-B process relatively quickly, and our company agreed to sponsor him. That is the first key obstacle: you need a company to sponsor you. If you cannot find a sponsor, you cannot work for long.
In the computer industry, I do not think it is too tough to find a company to sponsor for an H-1B. In the medical devices industry, it is almost unheard of. You have to be extremely lucky to find a sponsor, like my student was.
So, we began the process by hiring a lawyer. The entire bill for the lawyer from start to finish was around $14,000. The company paid it, but that may not be true in all cases.
In order to get an H-1B, you must do one major thing: prove that there is not an American who can do the same job, and to do this, there is a process you must go through that boils down to roughly this:
1) Advertise the job in the newspaper and online
2) Post the job internally *including its salary* so everyone in the office can see it
3) Leave those postings up for a certain length of time.
4) Interview other people for the job.
5) If you make it to this step, you must justify why you did not hire any of those people.
6) Finally, you can hire the person but there is a lot of paperwork involved and a minimum salary that they must be paid.
Incidentally in this case, the minimum salary was much higher than it would have been if we hired an American of the same experience. So, in other words, if the company really wants to do this, it must not only pay $14,000 for the lawyer, it must pay MORE in salary too. Put another way: it is way cheaper to hire an American. I know this runs counter to what a lot of politically-minded folk say, but this is my experience.
Once this process was complete, the student happily worked in the company and does to this day. The company promptly swore never to do this again. It was too much of a hassle.
So to recap, as a non-citizen, you can get an H1-B visa and work in a US company if:
1) That company will sponsor you.
2) That company or you are willing and able to pay $14,000 for legal assistance.
3) That company can pay you the higher rate required by Federal law for H1-B workers.
4) That company can prove that an American cannot do the job you are applying to do, because you have special expertise not found here.
I wish the news was better, but this is what I have experienced and what I know. Several times per month I get questions about this and the students are always surprised by the answers. Beyond this narrative, I have no real solution except to say I wish you lots of luck. If anyone has better experience with this, post in the comments.