Pulaski's Ways: How to Live and Work in the USA
The following is an unofficial guide to living and working in the USA by people who have already done it. It is not a definitive or even detailed guide but nevertheless shows the common starting points for the beginning of your journey. Note that it is not legal advice; if you require such advice, AILA is a suitable place for a referral to a specialist US immigration lawyer. Official US government information is available at USCIS and State Dept Bureau of Consular Affairs. Unlike many other popular destinations, the US does not provide specific retirement or skilled trade visas. Please research fully before you ask questions on the forum.
There are two categories of US visas: immigrant and non-immigrant.
- Immigrant: You will be a permanent US resident (Green Card). You may under certain conditions subsequently apply for naturalization as a US citizen. These are handled by the State Dept. if you apply outside the US for a visa, if applying inside the US it is called "adjustment of status" and you apply to USCIS.
- Non-immigrant: There is normally no specific option to convert to permanent resident status. Additionally, you must intend to leave the US when the reason for your stay no longer exists. The majority of non-immigrant visas (except those which allow "dual intent" - i.e. you intend to immigrate permanently at some point) require that you maintain a home outside the United States, however most employment based categories do allow dual-intent. To go from a non-immigrant status to being a permanent resident (usually called an LPR or green card holder) requires someone to file an immigrant petition for you, for family members (e.g. a US spouse) this usually means an I-130, for an employer this usually means an I-140. Once the petition is approved (which can take many years if there is a quota, see below) then you can file for "adjustment of status" or if you're outside the US, an immigrant visa.
- Marriage or engagement in anticipation of marriage to a US citizen. Immigrant or dual-intent visa. Search for: K1, CR-1, K3, direct consular filing (DCF), I-130 petition, Adjustment of Status (AOS).
- You have a close relative (mother, father, child over the age of 21, brother, sister and no further) who is a US citizen who would sponsor you; approx. time for visa is 6 months or very much longer. Immigrant visa. Search for I-130 petition, adjustment of status (AOS).
- Family-based is broken into two types, "immediately available", which means mainly a parent, spouse or minor child of a US citizen, or a "preference" category, search the web for the State Dept. visa bulletin. Generally however you will be waiting many years if you are in a preference category. First preference means unmarried adult (21 or older) children of US citizens; Second preference (A) means spouses and minor children of LPRs; second preference (B) means unmarried sons and daughters (over 21) of LPRs; third preference is married children (over 21) of US citizens and fourth preference is for siblings of US citizens.
- As it says in the visa bulletin, do not make the mistake of taking today's date and then subtracting the priority date to work out how long you will wait - priority dates are based on the quota usage, not the date. Since INS put the forms on-line in 1998 the demand for visa numbers has ballooned and the beneficiary of an I-130 fourth preference petition filed today would likely be waiting several decades for a visa number.
- You have skills that are in short supply, e.g. scientific or medical training. A university degree is normally a must. Or you have superior specialist skills with at least 12 years experience (A US degree is usually four years, so this equates to 3 years job experience for each year of a 4 year degree). Recruitment agents will not take you seriously if you are not already in the US. Writing for jobs is often futile, and US employers have no idea what many foreign qualifications mean, so it may pay you to get your qualification translated into a US equivalent. You need a job offer before you can get the visa. Your employer will be your sponsor at a cost to them of $5k and up. They may also have to prove to the Dept of Labor there is no American to do the job if the position is to be permanent. Your dependent spouse may not work. Employer can apply to sponsor you in April for an Oct start of the fiscal year, but there is a limited number of visa's issued, current cap of 65K visa's, which fill up quickly, unless the position is exempt from the cap, such as a university position. Married spouses receive a H4, which does not allow them to work. A H1 is a dual-intent visa. Search in forums for: H1B Visa
- You have a multinational employer who is willing to transfer you, but even then the employer has to make a good case for you. Your dependent spouse may work once an EAD is received, children are not allowed to work. Dual-intent visa. Search for: L1 Visa, intra-company transfer.
- You have a multinational employer who is willing to transfer you, and the company you work for has significant trade between your home country and the US. You also have specialist skills which are essential to the operation of the company. Your dependent spouse may work subject to approval. Search for:E1 Treaty trader. This category is designated for persons engaged in international trade between the U.S. and the aliens’ countries of nationality.
OR you have your own business in the UK, that somebody can manage for you whilst you are in the US
- You have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts (including the television and motion picture industry), education, business, or athletics. Your dependent spouse may not work. Dual-intent visa. Search for: O1 or P1
- You are a foreign member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the US and entering the US to carry on the activities of a minister or religious worker as a profession, occupation or vocation Search for: R1.
- You have an employer willing to offer you seasonal work which U.S. citizens and permanent residents are unavailable to do. Search for H2A (agricultural) or H2B (non-agricultural).
- Note : Getting a Green Card is not necessarily easy even if you are lawfully admitted on a work visa. In most cases employment based green cards require employer sponsorship, labor market testing to prove no American can do the job, and in many cases (especially third preference) the wait may run into years. In other words, a sponsoring employer or job offer is not necessarily enough. The pathway to a green card should be researched before you move to the United States on a non-immigrant visa. There is a total quota of 140,000 for employment-based green cards per annum, you should check the State Dept. visa bulletin.
- Short term, but allows for OPT after studies, which is basically for on job training
- F-1 visa (or sometimes M-1), from an accredited school, to get this as a rule of thumb, you have to show that you have means to cover the cost of tuition and other living expenses, so around $10K on top of tuition per year at the very least. This can be from having cash in the bank, loans available or other credit, sponsorship or scholarship etc.
- This visa doesn't allow you to work whilst studying for the first semester of the course (6 months), and then after that, only for 20 hours a week on campus, if you use that option, your one-year OPT is reduced by six months. There is a "hardship" option for employment but this is rarely used and difficult to get.
- Student visas (F) are non-immigrant but in some cases it may be possible to switch to H-1B or a similar visa class on graduation and progress from there to a green card. This however requires a co-operative employer who will file the correct paperwork and this is far from guaranteed, given that H-1B for example has a quota.
- The J visa class allows for people to participate in specific exchange programs. Many of these applicable to U.K. citizens are organized by BUNAC and Camp America, the Mountbatten Institute also organises an exchange in NY. Also see State Dept Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Many, but not all, of the the J visa options are for students and recent graduates. J visa is non-immigrant and sometimes has a 2 year home residence requirement once the stay in the U.S. is complete, especially US government funded and medical programs (there is scope for waiver in some circumstances). Spouses and children, who get a J2 visa are not allowed to work.
- You own or buy business as a national of a qualifying Treaty country. The business must have a minimum value of around $150k (the more, the better) bearing in mind you will need somewhere to live and with any startup business you will need at least 2 years living money as back up. So a figure of $350k would be a nearer minimum. Your dependent spouse may work. Non-immigrant visa with no direct pathway to a green card. Search for: E2.
- You are an "investor" i.e. you have at least US $1m in assets to invest, or half that in certain areas (plus whatever you will need to live). Your background will be investigated. This is also known as 'investor for alien entrepreneur'. This will give you a 2 year conditional green card, After a 2 year conditional green card you can apply to USCIS to have your conditions removed to be an unconditional permanent resident. Search for EB-5.
Misc (unusual for UK citizens)
- You participate in, are selected, and successfully process the Diversity Visa lottery. Note that persons born in certain countries including the UK (except N. Ireland) are generally not eligible to apply unless your spouse or both parents were born abroad. Immigrant visa. Search for: diversity visa (DV).
- You are in a position to claim refugee status/political asylum. (Basically impossible for a British citizen).
- You assist US law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes and terrorist activities such as money laundering and organized crime. Search for: S visa.
- You get a member of Congress to sponsor a private bill with legislation that applies just to you. (extremely rare)
- Australian citizens may qualify for the temporary E-3 visa with a view to obtaining a green card further down the line.
- Canadian and Mexican citizens may qualify for the temporary TN (NAFTA) visa/status. This is not a dual-status category, what this means is that if you are sponsored for a green card you cannot renew the status once you get to the point of applying for adjustment of status so make sure you have plenty of remaining time.
- Citizens of Singapore and Chile with professional occupations may qualify for the special H1B1 visa, similar to H1B (except that dual intent is not specifically permitted), but with its own quota.
- Most citizens of the Pacific nations of Palau, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia, may seek admission to live and work in the United States under the Compact of Free Association
- Starting 2009, Irish citizens in university education or recently graduated may be eligible for a 12 month working visa. U.S. / Ireland Work & Travel Agreement.
Originally written by BritishExpats member "Pulaski". Additional content by BritishExpats Member "Ray". Edited and re-vamped by BritishExpats Member David, "Fatbrit". Edited by Steve_.