10 Things You Need to Know If You Want to do a Research Attachment in the United States:
1) The common term that PhD researchers use to engage with this kind of activities is by applying the status as a ‘Visiting Scholar’ (VS). Especially if you want to do the research at any participating universities in the States, they usually have this kind of facility. So, please search for the T&C of visiting scholar at the participating colleges or universities that you are applying.
2) There is another term of ‘Visiting Researcher’ but usually this term is applied to those who has already obtained his/her PhD and will visit USA for further investigations in their research. And it is also usually meant for those who had obtained his professorship or equivalent positions.
3) The first and foremost step to apply this position (i.e. Visiting Scholar) is to obtain an offer letter from the host institution. So, this means that you don’t just simply wait or do nothing or hope that someone will do a ‘backdoor’ work for you hoping that out of sudden, you’ve got an offer to go to the States. Nope. Applying for VS is like searching for a job too. You have to approach potential employers (institutions), forward your emails, update your CVs, do the background research, make a good cover letter/ email with nice words to impress them.
4) The best person to approach in the States is the person that you want to work with. Later on he will be your advisor or supervisor. You will be attached to him for the rest of your time once you’re there. So, choose wisely for someone that knows best of your work and you think you can work with. Approach him/her with your strengths, needs and prospectives so that he/she knows your suitability to be at their institution. This is because, at the end of the day, he will be the one who have to do the paperwork for you and make recommendations to their Board of Selection.
5) Do not forget that you should also get a full support from your home supervisors/bosses too. The support and understanding from home country is really important that they will know on when they will help you and when that you’re good to go.
6) You should also have sound financial aid. A VS offer letter will only be issued once your host country knows that you have some amount of money to support your activities there. This source of money can be of many forms. It can be from your home country (government support). Or it can even come from your host country (USA). As long as you can prove that your trip will be supported by sufficient fund (e.g. a letter of financial affidavit etc), then you’re good to go.
7) Usually VS type of Visa is J-1. J-1 Visa is entitled to work and get paid by the employers in the USA after a minimum of 3 months stay in the country. If you’re bringing spouse and children (dependents), they will be given J-2 visas. Spouse can also work with this type of Visa after 3 months of stay in the States. However, J-1 visa is governed by T&C by the Department of States that after completing the study or the period of VS, the Visa holder MUST always come home to their home country and reside for at least two years before they’re coming back for the same Visa. This is especially true if the VS comes to the States for the study under the critical fields of science and technology as per listed in the States official website. (http://j1visa.state.gov/).
8) Just before they issue your offer letter, your host institution will request a proof that you have at least a fixed amount of income USD$1,500/month (about RM6,250 for the current XE) in your account. This is if you’re coming to the States as an individual. If you’re bringing spouse or children, an additional cost of USD$200/month (about RM850) for each dependent. You can provide the proof by sending copies of your latest bank account with balance must not less that the required amount. You can also send copies of monthly payslips (translated in English). Other than that, you can also send any financial statements such as personal funds, etc to support your application.
9) There’s always the cost of medical insurance when living in the US. So, always check the amount that need to be made for this purpose once you’ve arrived in the States.
10) The period of holding to the Visa Type J-1 Visiting Scholar can vary from two weeks until 6 months. You can only extend the VS period after 6 months with a very good reason and supported by your Advisor and recommended by your host institution. After this period of attachment, you MUST come back and reside at your home country as per stated in item (7) above. However, if you choose to stay and apply for another type of Visa, yes, you can. But this T&C of residing in the home country for at least 2 years will be carried forward until no more permit of stay and Visa type that you can apply for a stay in the States.
This article is written as a commemoration for my first anniversary of residing in the home country after my VS made in the States last year. I have another 1 year-term before I can apply for my next long-term visit to the States (other than just a tourist-type of Visa).
I owe very much to my home institution (UNITEN), my supervisors, and very special thanks to my husband for the overall financial support that I got other than the minimal amount from the official sources. To be honest, family investment on me is 3X the amount that I got officially from the Government of Malaysia. And my high appreciation goes to the family of Malaysians who are residing in Fargo, ND. We are not many. 1 Malay man and 1 Malay lady doing their PhD there. And couple of other Malaysian-Chinese who are doing Masters and Bachelor studies. Indeed, I had a fruitful life doing my study there. And I am very much inspired to finish this study, graduate and have a better life.
May Allah Bless my family and friends.