Stay far away!!! I hope that my awful experiences can save others the stress, heartbreak, and a lot of money. Next Step Connections is so disorganized and poorly run that I had to put off my internship the first time (they didn’t get me the paperwork on time). Since then, then they asked me to lie to the visa consulate, had me working in China on a tourist visa which I found out is illegal, *and* had me working at a site where I was essentially a secretary when they knew that my school required substantive legal work.
For background: I am a third year law student. I hoped to get a bit of international law experience in Shanghai and committed to Next Step Connections over CRCC Asia (I have so many regrets… I used CRCC for my study abroad as a college student and had a great time). I chose NSC because it was cheaper and they said they could get me an internship with a law firm which was slightly more prestigious than the firm CRCC offered.
And then things quickly unraveled. I was initially slotted to intern with the firm for the fall semester of my third year in 2016. I let NSC know *months* in advance that I needed my visa handled before I left for my summer internship, since I was interning in a government agency in another Asian country where it would be very, very difficult for me to apply for a Chinese visa. They dragged their feet until it was too late. Even if I applied for an expedited visa (otherwise I would have to take a weekend trip to the state with my nearest immigration consulate – not possible with the time I had left) it would have cost me around $500. They blamed the supervisor of firm, saying that it was because he was on a business trip that week for why the single page letter was late. As if they didn’t have months to do it beforehand! Or as if fax machines, scanners, and e-mail don’t exist…
So I sucked it up and said fine, I’ll wait for my final semester in law school. It wasn’t ideal but I wanted the experience. This time, they told me that instead of a tourist visa I’ll need an M-visa, according to firm policy. And then they asked me to break the law and then they were wrong about it!
They told me to withhold material information from the consulate. They told me to not tell her that I was going to China for an internship. They didn’t give me any information on what I should tell her instead, so I ended up stumbling over some lame excuse because I (1) had no idea what to say and (2) wasn’t very comfortable lying to a government employee. When they asked what I said (because of course I was denied) they scolded me and told me to say “x” instead. When the second attempt didn’t work, because the consulate said I didn’t have all the necessary paperwork just like the first time, they just doubled down as if somehow Next Step Connection / their dumb scheme was correct and the *immigrant consulate* was wrong.. This was another huge red flag but it was too late to bail out.
I was on my third attempt at getting this business visa before I had to get an emergency flight to Washington D.C. and talk to the consulate myself because otherwise I would miss my non-refundable flight. Again the consulate denied me.
At this point I still didn't have a China visa... So I use an expedited service to apply again in Tokyo and I’m denied because I don’t have the paperwork for an M-visa. Eventually I had to accept a tourist visa because my spring semester was going to begin.
So I spent three weeks and $200+ on expedited visa services in the US, $400~ for an emergency flight to Washington D.C. to speak to the consulate and get my passport, and another $100+ in Japan for expedited services. I’m not entirely sure of the yen to US dollar conversion, so it's likely more. At no point during this entire experience did Next Step Connections offer an apology and they were so blasé about asking me to lie so many times and to so many people...
It was only until later, when I started researching China visa laws, that I found that there is *no issue whatsoever with disclosing that you’re using an M-visa for internship purposes*. Next Step Connections had me lying, flying around everywhere, because they were uninformed of one of the basic functions of their organization.. which is getting applicants into the internship site country.
I entered China with a tourist visa and the firm would not accept me because it has strict policies that all interns must be under an M-visa. This was heavy on my mind and so I began researching why… and it turns out that it’s illegal for a person to enter China on a tourist visa and intern. The person can be fined, sent to jail, and deported for violating this law. I didn’t know it at the time I began my internship at the backup site and it blows my mind that Next Step Connection would violate the law by placing interns in these businesses… and never even let me know so I can make an informed decision!
Obviously, as someone who wants to work as an attorney in China, I would never want to endanger my ability to enter China again or risk going to a Chinese prison!
I was unaware of how stupidly dangerous continuing on with an internship would be, so I let NSC pair me with a law firm that they claimed was international, English speaking, and would have work for me. NSC was aware that the requirements of my internship course were multifold but that there were two primary requirements: (1) all sites must be approved by the internship coordinator of my law school and (2) I must do substantive legal work.
Because I wasn’t able to get a business visa, I didn’t wind up at the law firm I was approved for and there wasn’t enough time for my school to vet this new firm. And even if there had been, the firm would have never been approved because of point two.
I didn’t do an ounce of legal work my entire time at this firm.
At my other internships I’ve written memorandums that have turned case decisions, I helped influence policy matters on federal government agencies, I’ve helped whole families gain US citizenship… and at this firm? I was a secretary. I occasionally did English edits to legal documents (correcting someone’s grammar is not legal work, in case you’re wondering Next Step Connections). But mostly my supervisor dictated e-mails to me for me to send out. I also edited resumes and made a website for my supervisor’s side project, not related to the firm at all. The only person who spoke passable English was my supervisor. There was no legal work for me available at all.
The entire experience was extremely isolating... and I spent the next few weeks feeling deeply depressed. I spent thousands of dollars, flew around the world, stressed and cried… just to stare at my computer and pirate television series for my supervisor while occasionally sending out e-mails he dictated nearly word for word. I did this for a few weeks before my professor determined that there was not enough time for them to assess my placement site. Even if there was, again, it would not have passed the “legal work” requirement.
So I wasted the application fee, the program fee, and nearly $1k in visa runs. Nevermind the waste of actually flying to China and staying there for weeks... And when I vented my frustration to Next Step Connections they trotted out a number of excuses with a total lack of apology but they wanted to meet to “make things right”. When I told them I was tired of their excuses and wanted to know how they were going to “make things right” they just stopped e-mailing.
TL;DR. They dragged their feet on necessary visa requirements twice, asked me to lie to government employees (for no reason…), did not inform me I was breaking the law when I was working as an intern on a tourist visa, and paired me with a law firm that had no legal work available when they knew that it was a substantive requirement of my course. When I told them them about my frustrations they offered no apologies but lots of excuses and then stopped replying.
Use an organization that’s more professional, even if they cost a little more… At least you won’t be putting yourself at risk and you may actually get to do substantive work. I suggest CRCC Asia, I had a great time with them as a college student. I really hope this saves someone from making the same mistake I did...