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LOS ANGELES, United States — The world’s fifth largest economy, ahead of both Britain and France, California generated a gross domestic product in excess of $2.7 trillion in 2017. Although wildfires have recently raged across its picturesque landscape, with the most recent blaze tragically among the deadliest in the state’s history, California remains a magnet for innovators. As a land of opportunity, California is currently home to over 10 million immigrants — more than a quarter of its residents and roughly twice the US average — who account for over 30 percent of its labour force, according to statistics compiled by the American Immigration Council.
The state has an international reputation for its laid-back lifestyle and its focus on health and wellness, but its productivity is world-leading. The state’s economic success is often attributed to the burgeoning influence of tech culture, resulting in a less stigmatised approach to failure than most industry-driven areas and cultivating an environment primed for achieving ambitious goals. The state is home to some of fashion tech’s most influential and innovative entrepreneurs, including Stitch Fix’s Katrina Lake, Everlane’s Michael Preysman and Beautycon’s Moj Mahdara,
Aside from mounting career opportunities, it is quality of life that continues to give California such appeal both globally and nationally. Current inhabitants include industry-leading stylists Elizabeth Saltzman, Petra Flannery and Karla Welch, but it is also attracting fashion entrepreneurs to set up their design businesses in-state. Shoe designer Tamara Mellon set up shop in California in 2013 and relaunched her business with a new model in 2016, seeking to disrupt the traditional seasons with a mix of permanent and drop-based product lines.
California also draws the growing environmentalists of the industry, with brands like the luxury up-cycling label RE/DONE and sustainability-driven Reformation offering new career paths and the opportunity for more ecologically responsible employment. Similarly, bio-manufacturing companies like Bolt Threads are pioneering natural solutions to synthetics, pushing their boundaries and creating innovative career opportunities in the process.
So what are the first steps to moving to California? BoF collates everything you need to know to start your preparations, with advice for both international talent and United States nationals below.
Starting Your Visa Journey
Unlike the process for American residents, those living abroad require work visas which, generally speaking, are based on an offer of employment.
Every year, approximately 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas are available for qualified applicants, according to the United States Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. To be considered for an employment-based visas, you ideally need to fall into one of the five preference categories, which range from “multinational managers or executives” to “skilled workers and professionals.”
It should be noted that prospective employers typically require a labour certification approval from the Department of Labor. Then, after acquiring this approval, they must file for an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services before hiring you.
Find the Right Visa
Working visas for the United States are extensively divided into categories and subcategories, listed under titles such as H-1B — for a person in a speciality occupation, including fashion models of “distinguished merit” — to O — given to an individual of extraordinary ability or achievement.
For example, O breaks down into O-1B, which is typically for individuals with proven extraordinary ability and achievement in the arts — distinct from O-1A, which is for individuals with proven extraordinary ability in science, education, business or athletics. To further the sub-categorisation, an O-3 visa applies to O visa dependants, such as a spouse or child, although this does not give authorisation to work.
The language and categorisation of visas can be confusing, so do your research thoroughly via the Directory of Visa Categories on the US Embassy and Consulates website, or seek expert advice should you need help knowing under which category you fall, which you can find through regulated immigration advisers. The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner, for example, has the Register of Regulated Immigration Advisers, which lists vetted advisers in England and Wales.
Research Your Visa Application Requirements
Eligibility standards are tough and require evidence which, in the case of the O visa, requires sustained national or international acclaim and letters of recommendation and recognition from other experts in the field. Alternatively, proof of “extraordinary ability” can come in the form of a higher salary than those in a similar position, evidence of original contributions of major significance or a recognised prize or award for excellence.
Acquiring this evidence can take a long time and relies heavily on others’ time too. Therefore, plan far in advance and ensure you keep up those relationships with previous employers to ensure they will help you with your application.
You must also provide official documentation for your application as well as medical examination forms, which you need to bring to your immigrant visa interview. Your application will be sent to the National Visa Centre, which will instruct the applicant to complete a form for an immigration lawyer and pay the appropriate fees before processing the official documentation.
Fees are charged for actions such as the filing and processing of petitions, among other services that might incur further costs such as translations. Costs vary for every application. The Employment Preference applicants' fees, for example, cost nearly $350 and all feeds are non-refundable and non-transferable, whether the visa is issued or refused.
Prepare for Your Interview
Your interview will only be scheduled when the immigration office is satisfied with all of the required documentation. These interviews take place at the US Embassy or Consulate in your current country of residence, conducted by a consular officer who will determine the applicant’s eligibility.
At your interview, you must also demonstrate that you will not become a public charge in the United States and demonstrate your intention to temporarily move to America and continue working in your area of expertise.
Familiarise Yourself with the Restraints, Rules and Regulations
All employment-based immigrant visas are issued in the chronological order of filing until the annual numerical limit for the category is reached. In some cases, categories can be heavily oversubscribed, incurring a waiting period spanning years.
However, when your visa is validated, you have a maximum of six months to enter the US. Should you fail to do so within that time frame, your visa will be invalid.
You should also note that when issued with your visa, the consular officer will give you your passport containing the visa and a sealed packet containing the official documentation provided as part of your application. If you open the visa packet, it invalidates your visa, so needs to be opened by a US immigration official when you enter the United States.
For United States Nationals
Do Your Research
The cost of living on a coast — whether East or West — is typically significantly higher than elsewhere in America. While New York is the second most expensive major city to live comfortably in the US in 2018, California’s San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland take first, third and fourth most expensive cities, making California the most expensive state to live in, according to research conducted by personal finance firm GoBankingRates. The average rent in San Francisco is $3,300 a month, or nearly $40,000 a year.
That said, there are affordable areas to live in California as the sprawling cities spread far from the expensive centres, but commute times must come into consideration. Avoid signing on to a long-term lease with no job lined up; just because you live in the same city as a job opportunity does not guarantee a short commute.
Tax is another expenditure you must consider, as city, state and federal taxes combined vary from state to state, city to city. Be aware of the change in tax from your current state and city, which will generally be lower if you live outside of a major city or coastal state.
Although the cost of living is high in California, the average wages are generally higher. According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, typical annual salaries in arts, design, entertainment and media are just under $60,000 in California, whereas salary comparison website Salary.com estimates the average artist salary in America is just over $53,000.
To Begin With, Consider the Bi-Postal Commute
Large firms based in other states and major cities, such as New York or Chicago, might be bi-postal, opening up an opportunity to split your time between states. Particularly for in-demand talent, you may have greater freedom to pick and choose your location of choice — with California baiting many who seek nicer weather and a wellness-orientated lifestyle, this might be the option for you.
This route would give you security to apply for a job in your home city or state and then the ability to test the California climate as a potential place to move permanently. You should assess the opportunity to split your time across states at interview, and express your interest and willingness to move early on to demonstrate your commitment to the move.
Risking The Right Time to Move
Typically, unless you are moving for a specialised or senior level of work, candidates who live in closer proximity to the place of work are preferred. Employers commonly ask applicants about their commute time, which would preferably fall under a couple of hours because the longer the commute, the more likely the employee will struggle with work hours, which makes that hire a greater risk.
What’s more, while you might offer to move for your job, the company will still see you as a higher risk than selecting from an already large pool of candidates in California. What if it doesn’t work out? What if the employee can’t find somewhere to live? While some companies offer relocation packages, this would usually come from a business with a large budget and are not as common.
To optimise the chances of American citizens outside of California wishing to change careers within the Golden State, if you make the move prior to finding a job, perhaps staying with friends or family, a local address on your resumé will benefit your application. Then find a home later.
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