By Lisa T. Felix and Steven R. Miller
So you’ve defended your dissertation and have your Ph.D. diploma in hand. It’s been a demanding few years. You’re excited to embark on your professional research career and hope to do so here in the United States. Perhaps you’re eligible for Optional Practical Training or Academic Training, but you’re looking toward the future and longer-term options. In recognition of the valuable role that scholars play in our society, the immigration regulations present a number of employment-based immigrant and non-immigrant opportunities for researchers.
Research-based employment petitions, however, are among the most complex and labor-intensive to prepare. The day-to-day life of an academic is hectic and stressful enough without having to bear the burden of preparing evidence for a visa petition all at once. In this blog, we’ll provide some tips on what you can do over the course of your early years as a professional scholar to best position yourself for a successful research-oriented petition later on.
In immigration—as with many things—it’s all who you know. In the course of your academic activities, make connections. If a fellow conference attendee seems interested in your research, exchange contact information and make an effort to keep in touch in a professional capacity. Open a dialogue with researchers who are using your work as a basis for their own, those who cite your publications, and/or professors incorporating your findings into their curricula. These are exactly the type of people who will make valuable referees when the time comes to obtain letters of support for your petition.
While the primary goal of the petition support letters is to provide a peer’s perspective on the scholarly value of your work, the letters also serve to contextualize your standing in the field—if major individuals in the discipline say you’re outstanding, this will help persuade the USCIS that you are recognized as outstanding in your field. To that end, a roster of distinguished referees representing prominent, reputable institutions and household names goes a long way toward a successful petition. While the content of petition support letters is more important, the value of impressive letterhead cannot be overstated. It may sound cynical, but the Harvard insignia really does catch the eye.
Keep an up-to-date CV.
It’s extremely important to have a CV that is recent and accurate. It’s far easier to update as you go than to track down the specific details of your publications, presentations, peer review, and other academic service after the fact. Make sure your CV contains as much information as possible about your professional activities, and check to confirm that paper and presentation titles on your CV match the titles as published.
Maintain a file of your published work.
This is something you’re probably already doing, but it’s worth noting that an organized collection of PDFs or scans will leave you well prepared to compile a complete petition. Numerous services exist to assist: Dropbox, Google Documents, ShareFile, etc. Save a printout, PDF, or link if your research or your laboratory is discussed in more “popular” media, such as a newspaper or magazine (print or digital), online news aggregators, social media like Twitter, or the promotional media of your university, center, or a related organization (professional or charitable).
Hold onto conference programs.
While presentations at international conferences aren’t explicitly noted in the regulatory criteria for research-based classifications, the USCIS does consider them as evidence that your work has been “published.” Unlike journal papers, an actual copy of the presentation poster, slideshow, or paper isn’t of much value. Rather, PDF copies of conference brochures, programs, and proceedings are the best evidence, as they contain information concretely establishing that you were at the conference and that you delivered a presentation during this session, at this time, on this date. Conference programs also have a certain visual impact that acceptance or participation confirmation emails don’t quite have. Furthermore, conference programs provide context – demonstrating whether the conference was a very large or very exclusive meeting, demonstrating the scope of the conference, and demonstrating the caliber of other presenters.
Make a Google Scholar profile.
Citations to your work demonstrate to the USCIS adjudicator that you are contributing original findings upon which others in the field are building their research. While other citation-tracking services exist, Google Scholar is one of the most popular and has the most “curb appeal,” with a characteristically clean and readable interface. Click here for our profile how-to guide if you do not already have one.
Keep a cache of papers citing your research.
In addition to an up-to-date Google Scholar profile, a strong research-oriented petition should contain copies of the papers citing your work. As you begin to amass citations, use your institution’s database access to retrieve and save PDF copies of articles that cite or discuss your research. Take particular note of papers that cite your findings extensively, especially if your name is mentioned in the text of the article, or if the authors use laudatory language to describe your work. Use a PDF reader to highlight the portion of the article that cites your findings—this makes it easier for the adjudicator to identify the relevant discussion of your work.
Perform peer review and serve on conference organizational committees, awards panels, and subsection committees.
At every opportunity and in whatever capacity, perform peer review. Invited service as judge of the work of others is an effective way of demonstrating to the adjudicator that you’re recognized by your peers as an expert in your field. It can be a good networking opportunity, as well. In addition to serving as an independent reviewer of articles submitted for publication in scholarly journals, the USCIS accepts a number of roles as evidence that you have served as judge of the work of others, including editorial board member, awards jury member, grant proposal reviewer, and conference committee member.
While all review work is valuable, you should keep in mind the caliber of the journals and conferences for which you perform reviews. Beyond the strict meeting of the judge of the work of others regulatory criteria, the USCIS measures the significance of such service through journal rankings, print circulation, conference attendance, and journal impact factor. Seek out the most prominent review roles that you can, and be sure to thoroughly document your contributions to the peer review process.
Which brings us to our last point:
Keep a file of review confirmation emails.
The USCIS is looking for completed service as judge of the work of others—invitations to do so don’t count for anything. Keeping a folder of emails thanking you for your service as a reviewer will save you the trouble of digging through your inbox when it comes time to prepare your petition.
While the prospect of presenting a comprehensive overview of your career is certainly daunting, following these tips will save you a lot of time and effort when you decide to embark on the petition process.