How to design a consulting career around immigration needs

Immigration has always been a big topic for our clients. It determines what clients will study, when they can apply for consulting firms and where they will apply. Today, I will offer some perspective based on some of the issues our clients raise. I will focus on the US since that is the most popular destination.

Hopefully, this email can spark your creativity based on the ways we have helped clients.

Immigration at a consulting partner level

For foreign executives who are trying to join McKinsey USA as a principal/partner we advise them against it. At the partner level one needs to have a network of clients in the US and understand US culture.

That is hard to do for a McKinsey Australia partner transferring to McKinsey NYC, and almost impossible for an executive from Sony Japan, for example. This is because the partnership is a lot more about sales than it is about the problem-solving process.

It is better to take the steps to build a client network before trying to join McKinsey in the USA as a direct-hire partner. In this situation, clients often have an option to consider transferring with their companies.

It is usually a non-immigrant visa, and if the clients end up liking the US, and find it easy to work in the US, we then guide those clients to focus their activities on just 4 areas which will allow them to meet the criteria to self-sponsor their applications on the EB1 path. And I am sure you know this, but just as a reminder, please remember that you must clearly state your intentions when applying for the original visa.

Want to run your own consulting firm in the US?

One FC Insider, from Germany I believe, emailed us about his experiences coming to the US on an E2 visa, having to leave when his plans failed, and then considering a return to the US. He tried to launch a small consulting firm.

What makes this visa useful to those who run their own consulting boutique firms is that if you can show you have made a commitment financially to move your business to the USA, and your business has been viable, in Germany for example, or could be viable, and you meet all the criteria, you may be granted a non-immigrant visa to work in the US and set up your business. For experienced-hire clients who run their own firms in Europe etc. this may not be a bad idea.

The US is a much larger but very competitive market but this may be a better path. Although there may be some common-sense exceptions, the investment visa applies for almost any business. Again, if the client ends up liking the US, and find it easy to work in the US, we then guide them to focus their activities on a narrow set of activities which will allow them to meet the criteria to self-sponsor their applications on the EB1 path.

Common immigration path

Most clients assume the best path into the US is via a degree, H1B application and finally a sponsored green card application. It may be, but it is also a long and arduous path with no guarantee of sponsorship. Very few firms sponsor green cards and the H1B process is a very long wait for clients from some countries like India and China.

EB1 path to immigration

For Lisa, a Chinese national completing her MBA in the USA, we followed a very different strategy. And we did it because her lawyer was taking her down the H1B path. And this is a strategy we have used for other PE and McKinsey, BCG etc. clients.

The strategy is to go down the EB1 path, provided they have an MBA, Masters in Business Science and/or any business degree and are working in management consulting since this visa has very specific requirements. It could also work for a PhD running a small consulting firm in his/her field, or even working within a consulting firm in his/her field. It also works in many other situations but we will keep it focused on consultants here.

We guide our foreign PE clients already working within the USA to undertake strategy related work within PE firms, and where possible within the strategy units within those firms. The goal is to show that the client has an MBA and is working in the field of their study. With MBA clients who join consulting firms this is not even an issue because they will be working in consulting.

And it need not be a consulting firm in the USA. You can self-sponsor from outside the USA. This has worked with clients in other countries. With Lisa and similar clients we guide them to focus on a very narrow set of activities to meet the criteria for self-sponsorship. The key here is the client can self-sponsor with this path.

Clients looking outside-in to our PE programs are often confused why all the non-Americans were guided into strategy-type roles in PE firms. This was not a sign of them not having the ability to land pure PE roles, but a career strategy decision that worked. The same reasoning applies for us guiding many foreign clients to take internal strategy roles in banks versus trying for years to join McKinsey.

Consulting career designed around immigration needs

For US clients we develop career strategies to have the best career. For foreign clients we focus also on their best career strategy, but we often have to design a career strategy around their immigration needs and that may, based on their choice, take precedence. Other foreign clients simply want to join McKinsey and are not worried about the certainty around their visas.

Our objective is to allow clients to self-sponsor relatively faster versus staying in the H1B path for years while trying to join McKinsey. And the broader lesson here is as you design your career and career strategy you have to do things that work for you, even if it may not be what others are doing.

You have to sometimes take two-steps back in a year to move 10 steps forward over 2 to 4 years. And you certainly should not simply be following the path everyone is taking.

As you can see there are many options here. If you are a foreign MBA either working inside or outside the USA and joining consulting, internal strategy and the like, you have to do some disciplined work over 2 to 3 years, but self-petitioning can be an option. In fact, working in any consulting role, scientific or management focused, can be a viable path provided it matches your education.

Go to the source: USCIS site

If you are exploring moving to the US, I would urge you to read the USCIS site for very clear instructions. This was our broad advice to clients like Lisa. We have seen extremely talented clients have their EB1, and other petitions, rejected because they did not follow the rules laid out for each visa type. The site is very clear and lawyers are typically overworked to offer bespoke advice or careful attention to your file. In fact, use your lawyer to manage the paperwork process but make sure you check every document and understand the requirements. Do not outsource that part. It can hurt you.

Think long-term

As you plan your studies and life, I would recommend making strategic decisions about where you want to go in 5 to 10 years. The MasterPlan program lays out this approach to thinking for the long term.

You have to distinguish between short-term wins and long-term strategic wins. You have to plan now as you shape out your career and path.

That is one reason we always hesitate when a non-resident science PhD wants to transition into McKinsey. Do they understand they most likely will lose the right to self-petition for their green card? Do they understand and appreciate the turmoil and uncertainty it can create? Would it not be better to stay in their field for 2 to 3 years, self-petition and then join McKinsey as a resident?

A 2-3 year delay is not much and will not be a waste of your time. Your professional development will suffer only if you fail to develop yourself in that time. In three years if you use our Insider content carefully you would have mastered strategy better than most McKinsey associates and engagement managers. The delay only leads to no self-development if you do not use it wisely.

Finally, while this may have sparked some ideas, please use a licensed immigration lawyer to help you determine the best path forward and execute any strategy you feel is best for your unique situation.

Best. Kris 

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