If you're serious about securing a work placement or graduate job in the United States, discover what type of visa you'll need and how to navigate the country's strict immigration laws

Job market

At the start of 2015, the US job market achieved the highest quarterly job growth in 17 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Wages and salaries are also at their highest point since 2008 (Bloomberg, 2014). In fact, major news outlets in the UK and USA are reporting signs of improvement.

The USA is still known as a global economic giant. Its main exports include machinery, electronics, oil, vehicles, aircraft and medical equipment. The country also holds the most advanced media sector in the world. US film, TV and music has a global audience and there are thousands of newspapers, radio stations and news channels.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are prominent in the digital and technology sectors - for example, the world-famous Silicon Valley in California is home to hundreds of innovative start-ups.

Prominent US companies include:

  • Apple;
  • AT&T;
  • Chevron;
  • Exxon Mobil;
  • Ford Motor;
  • General Electric;
  • Google;
  • IBM;
  • JPMorgan Chase;
  • Microsoft;
  • Pfizer;
  • Procter & Gamble.

Graduates looking for employment or internships in the USA, whether paid or unpaid, do your homework as employment can be hard to secure due to the complicated and highly restrictive visa process. To enter the country other than for tourism and travel, you'll need the right visa (see below).

Job vacancies

The majority of students and graduates find jobs independently or through their university careers service.

In addition to searching company websites and industry publications, you can also browse the latest US-based job vacancies at:

It's worth noting that you'll usually be expected to already have the right to work in the US before being eligible to apply for any of the advertised positions listed on these jobs portals.

Internships and work experience in the USA

Students, recent graduates and professionals can apply for the J-1 visa, allowing temporary work in the US. This includes an internship programme that can last up to 12 months and a trainee programme that can last up to 18 months in some industries.

You can apply for your own internship, but it's important to first understand the eligibility criteria, by speaking with a visa specialist. There are also agencies offering internships for a fee and short-term work opportunities available such as at the Fulbright Commission.

Summer work and travel is available to UK university students to take up summer jobs between June and September each year in seasonal and paid work such as themes parks, hotels, beach clubs and ranch jobs.

Another popular programme involves working at a summer camp. Every year, thousands of students work at camp and you can spend the summer with other American and international workers, teaching young Americans anything from arts and crafts to sports.

You can either find your own job before applying for the J-1 visa, or some providers may also offer the whole package, which includes the placement and visa sponsorship.

Some resources include:

Volunteering in the USA

There are a number of volunteering opportunities in the USA, as you might expect from such a large country, but you'd still need to make sure that you're entering on the right visa.

The business visitor visa, entitled the B-1 visa, is suitable for those looking to come to the US to carry out unpaid work on behalf of a charity or religious organisation. However, specific conditions must be met, so always check before agreeing to any position.

To find out what projects are currently seeking volunteers in the US, visit Volunteer.gov, the country's natural and cultural resources volunteer portal.

Language requirements

The official language of the United States is English. If this is not your first language then you may need to sit an English Language Proficiency test. The TOEFL and IELTS tests are the most common. For the J-1 programme, your tutor or sponsor may be able to verify your English, provided that your employer is satisfied with your level of ability.

US visas and immigration

The US is a complex country to enter due to its firm stance on immigration, but a range of programmes and visas are available for certain categories, so you'll need to ensure that you choose the right one - for instance, the J-1 exchange programme, which allows students and professionals to gain work experience and cultural exchange for up to 18 months.

It can help if you have an employer willing to sponsor you, but this is extremely rare - unless you manage to find work with a multinational company and transfer to a US branch to gain entry to the country. The L-1 visa is an option for those within companies willing to transfer you to their US operation for up to five years.

Employers looking to fill certain skilled positions can apply for H category visas. These include the H-1, for professionals and outstanding individuals, through to the H-2B temporary worker programme for seasonal workers, such as ski instructors. However, these are very limited in number and the application must be made by the employer rather than the individual.

UK nationals are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), meaning they can travel to the country on an ESTA for a limited-time holiday. To check which other countries participate, see the US Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Visit the US Embassy & Consulates in the United Kingdom website to better understand the working visas for immigrants and nonimmigrants, but here's the overview:

  • Nonimmigrant visa - This is for those looking for a temporary stay in the US. It covers business, internships, summer work, a holiday or education;
  • Immigrant visa - This is required by anyone who wishes to live and work permanently in the US. When entering the country these visa holders also have to obtain a Green Card (permanent resident status).

Once you live in the USA, it might be possible to pursue US citizenship. However, the path is a long one, as the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website explains that you'd typically need to have been a green card holder for at least five years. This is in addition to meeting other requirements.

How to explain your UK qualifications to employers

Employers normally recognise UK qualifications. This is highlighted by the fact some US nationals travel to the UK to study before returning home to work. However, it's worth checking that a UK degree will be accepted before you apply for a job.

You can learn more at ENIC-NARIC.

Working conditions

Many perceive the US to work traditional 9am-5pm hours. In reality, workers will frequently go beyond this. It could be that you end up working the occasional 12 hour day, especially if you are employed in the legal or medical professions, according to QS - Differences in average working hours around the world.

Single (non-married) US workers earning $9,225-$37,450 were being taxed 15% in 2015. Single employees on salaries of $37,450-$90,750 enter the 25% tax bracket (Tax Foundation, 2014).

The majority of US workers have to settle for as little as nine paid holiday days a year, which is well below the UK average. Full-time UK employees are entitled to 28 days, including public holidays.

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