Work in the USA

Every time I get a question about working in the USA, my palms sweat a tiny bit. I know the key websites to recommend (Embassy, Fulbright, service resources on working abroad) but despite my best efforts, I know that deep down I still get confused about what the different visa options are for a typical UK graduate. So, when I felt I’d got my head around it last week, I wrote it down quickly before I got confused again:

Work in the USA

There are lots and lots of niche areas (for everything from development workers to fashion models), let alone those with different citizenship status, but this is the super-generalised overview of generic entry routes.

Short term opportunities (J1 visa) to work in the USA

  • Basically to do something like an internship, train, or do work experience (paid or unpaid), you’ll probably need a J1 visa
  • A J1 visa is only issued under one of 14 different ‘programs’
  • Lots of ‘programs’ are specific (e.g. au pair/camp counsellor), but there are 3 general ones:
  1. The ‘intern program’ – visa to stay up to 12 months, can work – paid or unpaid. Only for those in full time higher education or <12 months out.
  2. The ‘trainee program’ – visa to stay up to 18 months, can work – paid or unpaid. Can be done after some work experience: 5+ years OR degree + 1 year
  3. The ‘summer work travel’ programe – can work for up to 4 months. Only for those in full time higher education.
  • To use one of these ‘programs’ to head west you need a sponsor (see the ‘find a sponsor’ bit on the right of this page). ‘Sponsors’ are different to ‘employers’. They’re one of only 93 approved bodies who can give you the forms to get your J1 visa. It’s their job to check that what you’ll be doing meets the terms of the ‘program’. For this they have a fee – an example of a sponsor and their fees is here:http://www.cicdgo.com/fees.php
  • Most of these sponsors will hold a list of internships/traineeships/placements that you can apply directly to, from them, although you can also go and find your own and then come back to them.
  • Technically, an employer could apply to become a sponsor themselves, but there are requirements, such as ‘to have experience in the field of managing international exchanges’, so it’s unlikely the majority will do this, as they don’t have to!
  • When hoping to intern or similar at a US organisation without a background in this, reading up and becoming confident about getting your J1 visa is important – as the onus is on you to sort it out before you can head out.

Longer term opportunities to work in the USA (employment-based, generally H1B visa)

  • The H1B visa is outlined here: http://london.usembassy.gov/work.html
  • From the USCIS webpages, it seems that H1B has been defined as: basically a role which requires a degree
  • The H1B visa is something the employer has to file for, after they offer you the job
  • Again, if the organisation hasn’t tried to file for a H1B visa before, it could put them off hiring you – hence, it is important that you know all about it to help convince them it’s worth doing.

Permanent emigration

Other useful links for US work:

If I’ve mistaken anything, do leave me a comment and let me know, but hopefully that’s a useful snapshot!


About Author – Lucy Hawkins

Lucy Hawkins

I’m a Careers Adviser at the University of Oxford. You can read more of  my posts on my blog at careerslucy.wordpress.com. The blog is about  my personal musings and not the official opinion of Oxford University  Careers Service in any way.


Follow Lucy on Twitter – @careerslucy


(The following post also appears on careerslucy blog)


(Image 1: Credit)

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