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How to Get a Job in the USA as a Foreigner

6 minute read

By Lesley Harrison

Working abroad is a good way to see the world, make new friends and get some invaluable life experience. Whether you’re taking a gap year, a recent graduate or looking for a change of pace midway through your career, heading to the USA can offer that. The country is diverse, and there are opportunities for people with a variety of skills to find work for a short-term stay. There are also opportunities to move to the USA for good if you’re in an industry where skilled workers are in-demand. Read on for some tips for foreign workers who are looking to get a job in the USA.

Why Spend Time Working In the USA?

Taking a working gap year or spending a few months doing seasonal work abroad is a great opportunity. It offers the chance to earn some money while seeing the world, and it can be a big boost to your CV. Even if the work you do abroad isn’t something that relates directly to your chosen field, it shows that you’ve taken the time to broaden your horizons and potentially gain some transferable skills. For those with more experience in their chosen fields, working in the USA offers incredible networking opportunities and could lead to finding some potentially lucrative job openings.

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Anyone Can Go to the USA to Work

As long as you qualify for a visa, you can go to the USA to work. You don’t need to have in-demand skills or a lot of money. Many people head to the USA to do short-term or seasonal work, such as working a summer camp job, as a truck driver or on farms. If you have in-demand skills, you’ll find it even easier to get a job. There are lots of work programs that will help people sort out the paperwork they need for their visa or work permit. Some programs even assist with travel arrangements and accommodations, so everything you need for your work-abroad experience is covered.

Working in the USA as a Student

If you’re a student, you may be able to do an exchange year in the United States and work while you’re over there. To qualify to do this, you’ll need a student visa. The most common type of student visa is the F-1 visa1. To get a student visa, you’ll need to be enrolled in a course at a qualifying institution, and you’ll have to attend an interview at your local embassy. The F-1 visa allows you to live in the USA during your course, and you can work up to 20 hours a week during term time. F-1 visa holders can work full time during holidays.

Working in the USA at Summer Camps

Many students take a different approach, heading to the USA during their summer holidays to take on seasonal work. One example of this is summer camps2. Workers spend time (typically around 8-9 weeks) supervising and being activity leaders at camps, and then have the chance to travel the United States after the camp is over. This is a great chance to get some experience working with a diverse group of people in a fun environment, and you’ll get the opportunity to enjoy a low-cost holiday at the end. All the paperwork will be done for you, so it’s an easy way to find work abroad.

Skilled Workers on Short-Term Contracts

If you’re a skilled worker being sent to the USA to do some work for the American branch of your company or an independent worker looking to take a short-term contract in the USA, you’ll need a visa3. The type of visa you require depends on the type of work you’re doing. For example, there are industry-specific visas for journalists, entertainers and athletes. The company that hires you will sponsor you for the visa application. In most cases, the application process is simple, but if you have any difficulties it may be worth working with an immigration lawyer to make sure things go smoothly.

Moving to the USA Full-Time

If you get a full-time, permanent job in the United States, you’ll need to apply for employment-based immigration4 and get a green card. This can be a lengthy and complex process. Many big companies that hire foreign workers have a dedicated relocation team that handles this for the workers because navigating the pitfalls of immigration paperwork can be challenging for someone who is not a lawyer. You’ll usually need to be a highly-skilled worker with a secure job in a well-paying profession to get permission to remain in the USA long-term.

Jobs That Are in Demand in the USA

There are some professions that are very much in-demand in the United States5. People who have skills in these specialty professions are more likely to be able to get jobs as foreign workers:

If you have internationally-recognized qualifications in any of those professions, you may find it easier to get accepted for a job in the USA, and the visa application will likely be smoother. Make sure the institution where you studied for your degree is recognized in the United States before you apply for jobs.

Finding Job Opportunities and Sponsors

If you’re fortunate enough to have an in-demand skill set, you may be able to get a job in the USA simply by browsing traditional job sites. Those looking for more general job opportunities, such as farm work or working at summer camps, can try travel-focused job sites, such as USponsorMe6. Another option is to find a skill set you’d like to have and find a school or training company that caters to that skill set. An example of this is truck driving. There are several truck driving schools7 catering to international students, many of which offer job opportunities and visa help.

Getting a Green Card for Permanent Residency

If you have a temporary job in the USA and decide you want to stay over there for the long term, you’ll need to seek advice about how to extend your visa. The rules about how long a visa can be extended, how leaving and re-entering the company works and how to get a green card can be incredibly complex. Your sponsor should be able to give a lot of detailed advice about this, but if they’re a smaller organization and you don’t have dedicated help, the best option might be to work with an immigration lawyer.

Getting a Social Security Number

You’ll need a Social Security number to deal with a lot of institutions in the USA. You can request a Social Security number8 while completing the DS-230 form. Keep a record of your Social Security number, and don’t share it with other people without a legitimate reason. If someone has your Social Security number and date of birth, they may be able to commit identity theft.

Getting a U.S. Bank Account

It’s reasonably easy for foreign nationals to get a bank account in the United States, even if they aren’t a long-term resident. You may need to visit a bank in person to get an account if you don’t have permanent residency. If you’re a resident and have a Social Security number, many banks will allow you to open an account online. Ask your employer for advice if you don’t already have a bank account to ensure they’re able to process your first pay cheque properly. Some companies may not be able to send payments to international bank accounts.

Be Wary of Visa Scammers

There are many scam websites that promise to help people get jobs abroad. Be wary of any site that looks too good to be true. Try to work with longstanding companies that have a good reputation or deal directly with major employers. Remember, the job market is highly competitive, and international jobs are even more sought after than ones in your home country. Expect a competitive interview process, and be suspicious if a company requires you to pay an application fee.

Lesley Harrison