Advice for International Students

During my time at Gnomon I had a very hard time to figure out what I needed to do to be able to stay in the US after my student visa runs out. In this article I will talk about what you can do as a student to prepare for the work life, and what can help you to get a working visa. Don’t get too excited though. It is a very tedious process and I myself have not yet gotten my working visa but hopefully this will give you some guidance that I wish I had. The following is written from my perspective and the advice and the way I talk about is specific to my situation. Every person is different and has their own story, so always keep an eye out for other opportunities. Also since it’s me who’s writing this article most of the information is probably made up and completely wrong. And I apologize if any of this sounds patronizing to you. I just tried to put down some information and hope it helps someone.

During School

As of now there are still two programs at Gnomon, the EDDP (3 years) and the DP (2 years). Once Gnomon will offer their Bachelor’s degree this information will change, as the student visa will no longer be a M-1 but a F-1 type visa. With the three year program you will not get OPT (Optional Practical Training) so 30 days after you finish school you will have to go home. Sorry, for you guys the article ends here. Good luck!

Two year students on the other hand are theoretically able to work for 6 months after they graduate. In reality this is often shorter since the application process for the OPT can take forever. In some very unfortunate cases even so long, that the actual OPT time was only a few weeks. Gnomon will help you with all your paperwork for those kind of things though (Thanks Paulli!)

Next to placement (Thanks to Shannon!) that’s unfortunately all Gnomon can help you with. For me this meant getting told “Don’t worry about a visa, just do your best and you will be fine.” While I wish this was true, unfortunately it’s not all of it. So let’s look at everything you need: Get good. That’s the advice from Gnomon and it’s absolutely true. If you are good enough, jobs will find you and Shannon will work her magic and you’ll be able to find a one during your OPT. Here’s one really quick tipp for getting good: Time management. It’s really easy to plan your time at Gnomon: In 10 weeks you have to have your project finished, not week 11 but week 10. You have 8 terms * 5 classes = 40 tries to get good at that. Seriously, procrastination – even on a bigger level – just isn’t a good idea in my opinion. If you feel like you won’t be able to finish your project during the 10 weeks don’t try to incorporate it into another project in the next term and finish it there. Don’t plan to finish the projects during break. If you can’t finish a project during the 10 weeks, then learn from it and do a simpler project. That’s my advice and has nothing to do with your skill level. If you’d rather do breathing techniques during week 11, that works too.

So now you’re about to enter demo reel classes, you got good and got all those Best of Term Awards, that actually don’t mean as much as you thought (More on that further down). I think it’s time to look for some jobs. “But wait” you say, “I thought I had another term before the internships?” While that is true, this is the perfect opportunity to start messaging random people in the industry or even upper class people who graduated. Maybe you also know a teacher who’s working at a studio you really like. This is the time where you get to message people and send them your portfolio and tell them that you will be looking for an internship in a few months. That way the world can get ready for you! Also you will be working on your demo reel, so who to give you better advice on how to improve it than the people who are going to hire you (Thanks Miguel, you are my hero!) Now when that term finishes, you already got those contacts ready to ask for the sweet internship for next term.

During the OPT

Now you hopefully recovered from all the hangovers and got your OPT card ready. This means you’re ready to work. Hopefully you already have a job lined up when the card arrives. Even if it’s a small freelance job because every project you work on helps even if it’s a small one (More on that further down). If not don’t sweat it now that you have your card you can work legally and accept even small freelance gigs that are often advertised through Gnomon Placement. As soon as you get your OPT it’s time for a day trip to the Social Security Administration where you have to do a physical examination to get your Social Security Number. But you don’t actually need your Social Security Number on your first day, just apply as soon as possible. If you feel like you’re ready to get a driver’s license to get to your job, well you just missed a window. Because now you have to wait for your SSN to arrive. If you had applied for a driver’s license when you were still on your student visa, you didn’t. But who doesn’t like waiting at the DMV for half a day to find that out.

Now that you have a job and a steady income it’s time to spend all that cash on an attorney who’s going to handle the visa application for you. The good thing is, you don’t even need an employer that’s going to sponsor you to get started on this. So while this seems like the one catch every international student seems to love to ask about. The employer is not the key here. Let’s see what you need to prepare before you start calling all the attorneys in town.

Different Types of Visas

There are a few different kinds of visas that I know of. Do not trust anything you’re about to read:J1 If you have a degree from your country of origin then you can do an internship for one year in the US as long as it’s in the same field.
H1B If you have a Bachelor’s degree or 3 years of experience for every year of a college you can apply for this lottery. In 2015 there were 172,500 applications and 65,000 who actually got one. Good luck!
For Canadians and Mexicans there is the TN Visa I believe. Fairly straight forward, get a job a degree and you should be good to go.
O-1B Visa for artists with extraordinary abilities. Basically you have to prove that you’re a well established artist in the industry.
Green Card Lottery Well, this is all the fun of gambling without any stakes.
Prince Charming Well it might just so happen that you stumble upon someone you really like and when two people really like each other they make a Green Card together.

Actual Visa Advice

If you chose an O-1B visa I will tell you about the things you should have prepared before you start calling any law firms. For H1B and J1 visas I don’t think you need much, so go you!Since you need to make a compelling case for the O-1 visa it’s best to send an extended resume to any attorney so they can quickly judge whether they think you qualify or not. This is why I said finding a sponsor is not as hard as the rest of the application. Finding an employer to sign off on your O-1 visa is one of many steps. The right attorney will help you through this. So please make sure to find a law firm as soon as possible. This whole process took many months for me so as soon as you got some exposure, start looking for a firm that thinks they can help you. (I just kept calling places until found someone who took my case. Don’t be discouraged if you get people saying, you don’t have enough experience. That being said, before calling somewhere make sure you have a list of all your previous experience:

List all your past jobs and projects that you worked on and what your position was. Especially those from your own country are interesting because you want to show to USCIS that you are a well established artist there and have something to offer for this great country. This also includes collaborations and short films and such. This is why I said even small freelance jobs are important, the more projects you worked on the better. Next name all your publications, these can be tutorials, articles or magazines showcasing your work. Maybe you work was featured in a gallery once or a local newspaper wrote about a project you worked on back home? I know this sounds all very time consuming and you don’t have to dig out everything right away, but at some point you have to do it anyway. The last thing are awards. Well those Best of Term Awards might have been good for getting seen but you can NOT use them for your visa application. You are a well established working artist, not a student, remember? This also goes for any publications that you get during your time at Gnomon. This is very important. If you get to write an article make sure that you are not named as a student, just tell them to name you an artist. This will help you a lot when working on the application. Any other awards and publications are great: Artstation, 3dTotal, CGSociety etc. So make sure you keep track of how you promote your work. Getting seen with the BoT is great, so use that to write articles as the artist you are!