Mamen Sala is a journalist born in Zaragoza, Spain who has lived most of her life in Barcelona, a city that she loves. Her communication skills brought her to work as a TV reporter for different Spanish TV channels, such as TVE and Antena 3. Five years ago she moved to Los Angeles, CA, and started to develop another passion: Marketing and Communications in the culinary industry. She started working as a marketing specialist in the culinary field when she arrived in New York. During this time, she discovered that she could help the recruitment needs of the restaurants by trying to create a more diverse and multicultural environment. She and her partner, Sandra Martin, decided to build Chef Training U.S., offering the first specialized program that helps foreign professionals to get paid internships in hotels and restaurants located in the USA. After two years, and due to the high demand, they have decided to create U.S. Training Alliance, a company which helps businesses located in the U.S. to bring foreign talent into their companies. Mamen is not only the co-founder of Chef Training U.S. and U.S. Training Alliance, she is also the U.S. Correspondent for Mediaset (Cuatro and Telecinco TV) and France 24. She loves to work out every day early in the morning, travel and she is in love with the Ocean.
USEC had a unique opportunity to hold this exclusive interview with Mamen Sala.
1) As the co-founder and president of the new US Training Alliance, which capitalizes on the experience obtained over several years through Chef Training US, you are helping professionals from Spain and other countries who want to obtain a professional experience in the US. Can you explain in a few words how this program works?
The main goal of U.S. Training Alliance is to help U.S. based businesses to bring international talent to their teams. Most of the companies who contact us have faced the same problem: they would like to bring young candidates from their home country but visa issues make it impossible. We have the solution for that. U.S. Training Alliance not only finds the best candidates for your company, but also takes care of the visa process and supports both parties, candidate and company, during the whole experience. U.S. Training Alliance works in two ways: either we support a candidate provided by the U.S. company in the visa process, or we are the ones who recruit those candidates for the company. We have several agreements with professional schools around the world and we are ready to provide the best individuals for a job.
Once the match between the company and the applicant has been made, we take care of the rest of the process. In about 6 to 8 weeks the person can start working in the company without any legal problem.
2) What are the main benefits of this program for the professionals and for the employer?
The success of U.S. Training Alliance is that this program is a win-win situation. For a European company, for instance, it is a great opportunity because they can bring someone from Europe who already knows the company and can add experience to the business. I am sure they will appreciate to bring someone from the company who already knows perfectly their product or service.
For the candidate, it is a great opportunity because they not only gain experience while they do the training, but also since they will receive a fair salary they can support themselves while growing their resume with an international experience, that clearly will help them once they are back in their hometown.
U.S. Training Alliance helps and offers support during the whole process. We take care of everything. We are not just a recruiting company or an agent that supports with the processing of the visas. We are in continuous contact with our candidates and companies to offer them the best experience.
3) Many people believe that it is extremely hard to come to work in the US because of the difficulties involved in getting a visa and finding a company who sponsors it. What are the risks involved in the path followed by this program and the probability of success that can be expected?
I like that you to point out this topic because this is one of the reasons why we created the company. The J1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States to students, recent graduates or foreign citizens without a college education but at least 5 years of working experience in the field. It was created to develop programs that promote cultural exchange, especially to obtain business training within the U.S.
In two years, Chef Training US has helped more than 300 candidates from the gastronomy field to come to work in the U.S. In those two years, we have received several requests from companies and candidates from other fields, such as Architecture, Marketing and Graphic Design. These years of experience gave us the confidence to know when we are facing a risk, and we try to avoid it.
We don’t want to take risks. If we are not sure we can guarantee a visa, we don’t start the process. Also, we don’t charge upfront fees. This way, none of our candidates loses their money.
4) The current US Government is tightening the rules on certain types of visa, which has made the immigration process even harder. How is this impacting your program and how do you think immigration policy evolution may affect its future?
We need to understand that J-1 programs must not be used as substitutes for ordinary employment or work purposes; nor may they be used under any circumstances to displace American workers. These programs are also not designed to allow for cheap labor. The treatment and compensation of all J-1 visa holders must be comparable to U.S. workers in respective positions and must meet all federal and state wage and labor laws.
The good part of the J-1 visa is that there is no cap on the total number of J-1 visas issued each year, as there is for the H-1B and other popular visas. It’s also open to many different occupations and levels of talent, rather than specific specializations or education levels. The application process is also less intensive than for other popular employment visas and doesn’t require completing and submitting a labor condition application or immigration petition. Spouses and dependents may join a J-1 visa holder and, in most cases, are also eligible to apply for work authorization after arrival.
5) In this context, which professional fields do you think have the highest volume of opportunities?
I would say Gastronomy and Hospitality. Clearly, culinary cultures, as the Italian and Spanish for example, are in high demand in a country where there is so much in terms of cultural diversity. Everyone wants to offer something different and genuine. In order to achieve that, and keeping in mind how many competitors you have, the restaurants in the US are starting to bring professionals from other countries who can offer other tastes. Also, in areas like design, management, finance and sales, we realized that there is a high demand as well. There is a huge competition and people want to make a difference. For that you need to look out for help beyond borders.
6) Tell us a little bit about your experience as an entrepreneur from Spain starting companies in the US. What have been the most significant challenges you have found?
Starting a company in the US is very easy and fast. It is practical. The US Government wants you to develop ideas, to create work and business. Therefore, they make everything easy for you. I would say that maybe the only challenge has been the same one as any normal company: learn to manage the company in terms of accounting and laws, I would say, the technical part of the company. However, everything is being a very exciting path in which you meet amazing people and learn a lot of things every day.
7) Another role you have had recently is as US news correspondent for several European TV channels like Spain’s Tele 5 and France 24. The diplomatic and commercial relations between the US and the European Union seem to be in a complicated situation since the current US Administration took over. What is your view on how this is impacting business relations and what can be expected in future years?
We are certainly in a moment of a lot of changes and challenges. However, we live in a global world in which there are no mental and cultural boundaries anymore. Although unfortunately some commercial agreements have been affected by the new political situation, I am pretty sure that soon things will become better because it’s in everyone’s best interest.
Picture below: US Training Alliance co-founders, Mamen Sala and Sandra Martin