Reflection on Pursuing a Career as a Foreign Piano Technician in the United States

If you have never been an immigrant, you’d have little reason to understand the corresponding regulation. Many simply imagine them to make sense, but in fact they don’t. John Oliver explained it quite brilliantly recently:

Over the past year, I have been seeking employment in the United States while finishing my Master of Art in Piano Technology degree at Florida State University (FSU). Academically, this degree is a terminal degree, meaning there are no further degrees available in this field (i.e. PhD). It is arguable whether one needs a master degree to be a piano technician, but it is certainly essential for the temporary work visa (H1b) application in the United States. One must hold a relevant and recognized degree to be eligible for the H1b application therefore graduates of North Bennett Street School would never qualify. There are of course exceptions, such as winning an Oscar or a Nobel prize.

In Germany, foreigners can seek local employment after completing German’s own certification (Ausbuildung), but U.S. employers are far from the position do the same. Graduates of FSU have been successfully granted H1b visas, before immigration policies became restricted. How restricted? It is known that skilled labor with high paying jobs in computer science and engineering are not getting approved like before. Compared to them, piano technician positions are less understood, less paying, and less recognized. In short, I know that many U.S. employers are looking for capable piano technicians, some have in fact considered hiring foreign nationals. In most cases, these employers had little understanding in immigration policies, and have no idea about the huge legal fees and low approval rate.

It also worth to note that immediate hire is impossible. The regular process is to submit the application as soon as April 1, with the earliest start date as October 1 of the same year. Institutions and universities are exempt from this timeline, however the application process could still take months.

Of course, foreign technicians might have little knowledge about the immigration policies as well. I worked hard because many encouraged that I could have a fruitful career in the U.S., later to realize that I lack the right. Perhaps this is not the worst example, but I certainly lack the appropriate legal guidance from most mentors.

I had resided in the United States for 12 years, and became familiar with the way of life there. With my education in music, as well as historical keyboard maintenance experience, it would make me a qualified candidate especially for institutional positions. Though, after being in touch with numerous corporate and institutional employers, I understand that my failure to find a job was purely due to my immigration status.

And so, like many others, I left the U.S. and returned to my hometown, where my credentials and skills are less applicable. Nonetheless, I am relieved not to worry about my immigration status anymore, even if I were to pursue my career in a completely different manner. One might think that he or she can seek employment anywhere with pianos, but let’s face it… an outsider will always be an outsider.

Chung Wan Choi