Working in the US
The job market
What are your chances of getting a job?
The US economy shows signs of recovering after the global downturn, with positive growth and a number of industries expected to expand over the next few years. Unemployment is gradually decreasing but the job market remains competitive, making it difficult for non-US citizens to find work in the country. An easier route may be to gain work with a UK-based employer who also has an office in the US and work towards a transfer there.
Where can you work?
- Major industries: healthcare, pharmaceuticals, finance, petroleum, steel, motor vehicles, aerospace, telecommunications, chemicals, electronics, software, entertainment, food processing, consumer goods, lumber and mining.
- Recent growth areas: healthcare, electronics, software and finance. In the growing electronics and software industries, the demand for graduates is outstripping supply.
- Industries in decline: textile manufacturing and paper-based industries, including production, printing and publishing.
- Shortage occupations: engineering, science, education and healthcare.
- Major companies: Wal-Mart Stores, ExxonMobil, General Motor, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, General Electric, Ford Motor, Citigroup, Bank of America Corp, American International Group.
What’s it like working in the US?
- Average working hours: usually eight hours a day, 40 hours a week (although overtime, without pay, adds to the number of hours worked each week). It is roughly the same as European nations.
- Holidays: two weeks' annual leave is standard. Paid leave also includes national holidays such as 4th July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Annual leave entitlement increases with long service.
- Tax rates: if you become a resident alien with a green card, you are usually subject to the same tax rates as US citizens and will need to declare all your income in a tax return. You can contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for more information. Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Applying for jobs
The methods of application and interview are much the same as in the UK. You may be required to fill out an application form for some positions, using the employer’s standard form. Alternatively, you apply with a CV, which is usually called a résumé in the US. A CV in the US is usually a longer document (three pages or more) and is commonly used for jobs in academia. Résumés should always be accompanied by a cover letter. Interviews may include some form of psychological/psychometric testing. Get more applications and CV advice.
Unless you are already studying in the US or have secured work experience, you will need to apply for jobs before entering the country due to the strict visa requirements. If you have highly specialised skills and knowledge, you can try applying directly to companies in the US and request that they sponsor you for a visa.
Will your UK qualifications be recognised?
UK qualifications are generally well recognised around the world, but check with the employer or the relevant professional body prior to applying for work.
- Dice.com – IT and technical jobs
- efinancialcareers.com – finance jobs
- University Jobs – advertises university jobs
- Adecco USA
- American Staffing Association – professional body for recruitment industry that deals with overseeing practice amongst its members. Has list of agencies across US.
- Kelly Services USA
- Manpower USA
- Chicago Sun-Times – nationwide jobs.
- New York Times – nationwide job vacancies, including those with not-for-profit organisations.
- USA Today – nationwide jobs and is available in print in some newsagents in the UK.
- Washington Post – DC and nationwide job listings.
- Employment & Training Administration (ETA), US Department of Labor has up-to-date data on the current situation of the labour market, information on government schemes to aid the job economy, and links to job-hunting sites.
- USA.gov has information on all aspects of living in the US. You can find detailed information about self-employment and starting a new business in the States on the website.
- Careers fairs do happen in the US, as in the UK, in conjunction with different universities and industries. Check the individual websites of universities and professional bodies of interest for further information.
Many Americans find their jobs through networks of friends, current and former colleagues, professional associations and industry contacts. Making speculative approaches to recruiters is also common practice.
Getting work experience
Work placements and internships
A number of organisations offer work experience programmes and internships in the US. The programmes generally include help with visas, accommodation for the first few nights, an orientation programme and help with finding work. CIEE Internship USA is designated by the US Department of State to organise internships and traineeships. BUNAC also offers help with internship visas.
There are opportunities to participate in professional work exchange programmes, as well as study exchanges. The US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors some exchange programmes and has a list of organisations it has approved as sponsors for exchanges. The Mountbatten Institute offers year-long paid internships in New York along with the opportunity to study at evenings and weekends for a postgraduate qualification.
It is not possible to get a visa purely for casual work, as all US work visas depend on a specific offer of employment (see the Embassy of the United States in the UK for more details).
There are a number of short-term opportunities available in the US. One of the most popular is Camp America, which consists of a nine-week placement working at a US summer camp in a variety of roles. BUNAC also offers a range of working holidays including a summer camp counselling programme, flexible work and travel programmes and volunteering/teaching placements. Camp Counselors (CC USA) arranges summer camp jobs, and work and travel experiences.
Gap year and volunteering opportunities
There are opportunities to volunteer in America and the Fulbright Commission has details of what is available and any visa issues that need to be considered. Organisations that arrange volunteering projects in the US and many other countries include BUNAC and Volunteers for Peace.
Do you need a visa?
The US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) allows most British citizen passport holders to visit the US for up to 90 days without a visa. If you’re arriving by air or sea, you must get an authorisation via the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) before you travel.
If you are not a UK national, contact the American embassy in the country where you are currently residing about how to obtain visas and work permits. If you are living in the UK, go to the Embassy of the United States in the UK.
Entering the US for non-study purposes, such as employment or permanent residence, is much more difficult due to the tight restrictions on immigration. To gain a Green Card (known officially as lawful permanent residence), you would need to be sponsored by either a close relative, who is a lawful permanent resident, or an employer. See the US Citizenship and Immigration Services for more information on temporary work visas and Green Cards.
You might also find it helpful to contact your ministry of foreign affairs (or your own embassy if you are not living in your home country) to ask whether there are any issues to take into account when considering working in the US.
How do you become a permanent resident?
A Green Card holder (permanent resident) is someone who has been granted authorisation to live and work in the US on a permanent basis. You can become a permanent resident several different ways, but most individuals are sponsored by a family member (spouse or parent) or by their employer in the US.
Living in the US
- Cost of living: this varies from state to state but can be quite high in some of the major cities such as New York and Los Angeles. Affordable food and drink can be found in some places, as can rental bargains for apartments and houses. In general, the closer you get to the centre of the cities, the more you will pay.
- Internet domain: .us/.com
- Currency: American dollar ($)
- Health: it is generally safer to ensure all your vaccinations, such as tetanus, are up to date before travelling to the US. You also need to ensure that you have full medical insurance, as there is no national health service in the US and medical costs can be expensive.
- Type of government: federal presidential republic with a constitution at its core.
- Laws and customs: freedom is one of the cornerstones of American culture. The US Constitution limits the influence the government has on the personal lives of its citizens. Organisations in the US are also allowed greater flexibility to hire and fire employees and employment law is much less restrictive than in Europe, which can mean less job security. Each individual state has its own laws on issues such as speed limits, but it is illegal across the nation for those under 21 years of age to purchase and/or consume alcohol.
- Emergency numbers: 911 for medical, fire or crime emergencies.
- People: the US is a multicultural country with people from all over the world who have settled there.
- Major religion: Protestant (51%), Roman Catholic (24%).