Work in the USA: How to Relocate to the Land of Opportunity

brooklyn bridge skyline in new york for working in usa guide

The US remains one of the most popular relocation destinations in the world. People who are interested in working abroad and making a name for themselves often consider the US because of the country’s size and economy. The problem is that emigrating to America is not a simple or as straightforward process. United States Citizenship and Immigration Service receives millions of applications every year and in response has created one of the most complex immigration systems in the world.

The guide below will help guide you through the entire process.

General Info

The USA has one of the biggest economies in the world. The American dollar has unparalleled value in global markets, and although the economy suffered greatly during the great recession, it’s now bouncing back. Development is booming, and unemployment rates are consistently dropping, two aspects which make the US tempting for anyone interested in moving abroad for work.

Biggest Sectors

Much like all the developed countries in the world, America’s economy is mainly based on the service sector. But, as the country has vast natural resources, other sectors, like manufacturing, are also booming.

Although the public sector employs an eye-popping 22 million people, that is nothing compared to the private sector which employs 91 per cent of the workforce. And despite the fact that the country is home to some of the most famous corporations in the world, you should know that small businesses employ more than half of the workforce.

The biggest industries include:

  • Real estate
  • State and local government
  • Finance and Insurance
  • Health and Social Care
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail

Salary Information

As a result of the booming economy, Americans have one of the highest average employee incomes in the world. According to 2015 estimates, the mean household income is $56,516 (£44,374). According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2016, the median average wage for men is $927 (£727) per week, while women earn $758 (£595) on average per week.

Salaries do not only vary based on gender, they also vary based on industry and occupation as well as geographical location. What’s more, salaries tend to also differ based on ethnicity and a variety of other factors.

To eliminate discrepancies, the Federal Government has introduced a nationwide minimum wage of $7.25 (£5,69) per hour, but some states, including Washington, California and Massachusetts have set a higher state minimum wage.

Of course, there’s huge earning potential in the US, and some of the best-paid jobs can make up to $287,000 (225,000) a year. Some of the highest-paid professions include:

  • Health care professionals
  • Directors in large corporations
  • Technology professionals and engineers

Cost of Living

As the US is a massive country, it can be hard to determine the exact cost of living. Living in New York or Los Angeles, for example, can be extremely expensive, and prices are higher than in London. Living in more rural areas, or smaller cities generally means a decreased cost of living which usually goes hand in hand with lower wages as well.


Work Visa

To work in the USA you need a work permit as Americans are very strict with their immigration policy. Illegal immigrants are common, but they mostly slip over border from Mexico and have little opportunity to make a decent living.

Immigrating via the legal route takes time and requires vast amounts of patience, especially if you are interested in gaining a permanent work visa. You’ll have two options to choose from; one route leads to permanent residence and the other leads to the so-called ‘non-immigrant’ work visa which allows you to work in the country temporarily.

Some types of non-immigrant visas can result in permanent residence if you wish to pursue it, but it’s important to be clear about your intention from the beginning as immigration officers will not think twice before rejecting your application.

Permanent Residence

The permanent residence visa leads to what most people refer to as the green card. The green card allows you to live and work in the US and eventually receive citizenship. This process takes a very long time and it’s tough to qualify for this type of visa.

If this route is something you’re interested in, your best bet is to receive sponsorship either from a relative or an employer. Note that only first-degree relatives who are lawful residents in the US can sponsor your application and many companies may be reluctant to do so as it’s a rather complex and long process.

It is also available to refugees who need to prove that they are in imminent danger, while there’s also a Diversity Visa Lottery Program that you can enter to get selected for a green card. But, bear in mind that there’s a cap on the number of applications accepted and that entry is only open for a month every year.

Non-Immigrant Work Visa

It is ideal if you are interested in working in America for a limited amount of time without having to go through the bureaucracy that comes with the permanent visa. Please note that for most visas in this category you’ll still need to get sponsored by an employer.  

The H1B Visa - Special Occupations

The H1B visa is the most common method for people to relocate to America. It is typically valid for three years, and can be renewed for up to six years. The H1B visa is considered “dual intent”, meaning you can apply for your green card once living and working in the US. To qualify for this visa you’ll need a higher education degree (Bachelor and above) and work experience.

The H2A Visa - Temporary Agricultural Workers

The H2A permit is a special subset of visas that exists because of a shortage of agricultural workers in the US. Once issued, it is good for 364 days. Applicants must be from a country on the approved list.

The H2B Visa - Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers

The H2B visa is issued to applicants that are required for seasonal occupations outside of agriculture. Applicants need to come from one of the countries on the list linked above and you should know that there’s a cap on the number of visas issued.

Applying for the Visa

Regardless of the specific type of visa, all applicants must apply via the online portal at the Consular Electronic Application Center of the Department of State. The Non-Immigrant Visa Application, known as DS-160, collects all relevant information, documents, and photo for your application to go forward.

To proceed with your application you’ll also need to schedule an interview with a consular official. This interview will take place at the nearest American consulate or embassy. A consular official will talk with you at your interview, and based on your application and supporting documents, will determine which visa type you qualify for, if any.

Remember that your fingerprints will almost certainly be digitally scanned. At the end of your visa interview, you will be formally told whether your application has been approved or declined. If approved, you will be told when your visa, passport, and any other documentation will be ready for collection.

Finding a Job

The underlying notion for immigration in the US is that you need to prove you’re willing to work long and hard. Immigrants are always judged on their achievements and their enthusiasm for work. As a nation, Americans are very dedicated to their work ethic, and you’ll be expected to embrace that mindset upon arrival. To get a job in the US you’ll usually be required to prove that you’re not afraid of work.

To do that, you need to understand that academic achievements come second to work achievements and that your CV (called a resume in the US) needs to follow that kind of logic. Emphasis should be placed on your work experience and on how you managed to distinguish yourself in each work environment. Taking initiative and being a risk taker are qualities that are highly valued so make sure that any job applications you send communicate your enthusiasm for work.

Where to Find Work

To find work in the US, you need to use the same process as you would to find a job in the UK. You need to research companies you’re interested in and send speculative applications. Networking can also be extremely beneficial to immigrants as you can connect with different employers to discuss any sponsorship opportunities they’d be willing to extend before you apply for a visa.

Job boards and search engines are also a great way to start so look for opportunities in your sector in advance. Some of the sites you should focus on include:

Moving to and working in the USA is a huge change. Despite the many cultural similarities, Americans are very dedicated to their work and careers and to have a future in the country, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate that you are not afraid of hard work.

Would you be interested in working in the US? Or is neighbouring Canada more appealing to you? Let me know in the comment section below.