Moving to the United States
A guide to living and working in the US, and advice on getting a visa.
The United States of America is the fourth largest country in the world, and has been the destination of choice for thousands of Irish students.
Living in the US
The capital city is Washington, DC.
The population of America is approximately 312.9 million (January 2012).
The currency is US dollars (US$), and the exchange rate is 1 Euro = 1.30 US Dollars (January 2012).
Mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the great plains west of the Mississippi River, and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest.
The US is a democratic federal republic with two main political parties– Democrat and Republican.
Religion and ethnicity
The most prominent religious groups are Protestant (51.3 per cent) and Roman Catholic (23.9 per cent) (2007). Other religions (all which are under 2 per cent) include Mormon, Jewish, other Christian, Buddhist and Muslim.
The main ethnic groups in the US are: white (79.96 per cent), black (12.85 per cent) and Asian (4.43 per cent), with other smaller groups such as Amerindian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. ‘Hispanic’ is also a prominent group in the US, estimated at about 15.1 per cent of the population (July 2007).
Working in the US
When you arrive in the US, you will need to go to the nearest social security office and apply for a social security number and card. You are eligible for both when you have a J-1 visa.
The American working week is usually between 35 and 40 hours. However, over 25 million Americans work more than 49 hours each week (see U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Americans have an average holiday entitlement of 13 days per year, whereas Irish people get an average of 20 days per year.
The national federal minimum wage is $7.25 (2012), but many states have their own higher minimum wages. The average graduate starting salary in 2011 was $41,701 (see the NACE website), which is roughly equivalent to €33,690.
Irish citizens who wish to work in the United States will need to apply for a visa. There are a range of visas depending on the purpose of your travel. Business and leisure trips lasting up to 90 days do not require one. All Irish passport holders must carry a machine-readable passport when travelling to the US.
Before you can apply for a student visa:
- you have to have been accepted by an educational institute.
- you have to prove you have the funds to support yourself while in the States.
Then, follow these steps to apply.
Types of student visa
F-1 visa is for academic studies. An F-1 student cannot work off-campus at any time during the first year of study (they may work on campus). US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may grant permission for off-campus employment after that. Students may be allowed to stay an extra 60 days at the end of their studies.
M-1 visa is for non-academic or vocational studies. M-1 students may not work, except for temporary employment for practical training. If you get an M-1 visa you may stay an extra 30 days after the completion of your course.
J-1 visa (the Exchange Visitor Visa) is the most popular visa for Irish students. The J-1 visa is for educational and cultural exchange programmes designated by the US Department of State. They are issued to individuals who take part in a wide range of exchange visitor programmes sponsored by schools, businesses, and a variety of organisations and institutions.
They are also issued to people involved in some summer employment programmes, internship programmes for university students, and au pair programmes. In Ireland, USIT oversees the J-1 visa programme for students. You may be eligible for this if:
- you are a full-time student in a recognised third level college studying for a degree or higher national diploma of at least two years duration.
- you are returning to college in the autumn.
- you are a final year student, with proof that you intend to return to Ireland in the autumn, eg for postgraduate study or employment.
Participants in the J-1 exchange visitor programme must have sufficient funds to cover all expenses, or funds must be provided by the sponsoring organisation in the form of a scholarship.
Q visa is for international cultural exchange programmes designated by USCIS. The Q international cultural exchange programme allows for paid employment as part of the programme.
Temporary work visas
There are several other categories of non-immigrant visas for people wishing to work temporarily in the United States.
Temporary Work Visa (H): This is required if you have a prearranged professional or highly skilled job for a temporary period, or are going to fill a temporary position for which there is a shortage of US workers, or receive training from an employer. The employment or training must be approved in advance by USCIS on the basis of an application filed by the prospective employer.
Temporary Work Visa (L): This is required by an individual who is being transferred by a current employer to a specific executive or technical job with the same firm, or subsidiary in the United States. The employment must be approved in advance by USCIS.
Temporary Work Visa (O): This is required for individuals who have ‘extraordinary ability’ in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, or film and television.
Temporary Work Visa (P): This classification applies to individual or team athletes, or members of an entertainment group that are internationally recognized.
An immigrant visa is required of anyone who wishes to enter the United States to live there permanently. Due to the tight restrictions on immigration it is extremely difficult to get an immigrant visa or 'green card'.
In general there are three ways to obtain an immigrant visa:
- Sponsorship by immediate family member: If you have a US citizen parent, spouse, adult child or brother or sister, or if your parent or spouse holds a resident alien card, they can sponsor you for an immigrant visa.
- Sponsorship by prospective employer: A prospective employer may also sponsor you for a visa. The employer will have to show that you have recognised exceptional abilities or professional qualifications which are needed in the US.
- Winning the ‘green card’ lottery: The United States currently issues 55,000 immigrant visas per year, under the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. They are issued to people worldwide through a lottery system. Those who wish to apply through the lottery programme must enter online using the State Department’s website.
Applications for all visas should be sent to the US Embassy. Applicants are advised not to make non-refundable travel arrangements until after the visa had been approved. A visa entitles the holder to travel to the United States and apply for admission; it does not guarantee entry.