It’s very hard to secure a US visa, and immigration laws are very strict there. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It means you need to work harder to find a job in America compared to other countries. It takes about a year to relocate to the US, from the moment of sending your CV to American companies to the time you move to the country and start working. However, it all depends on the individual circumstances.
Also, be prepared for large expenses related to relocation and immigration to the US. You will need at least $15,000 for starters, including a rental deposit, bank deposit (to open a credit card), buying furniture, utensils, and so on.
Here are the main steps to follow along the relocation process in the US.
1. Applying for a visa
To live and work in the US, you need to get a visa. And to apply for it, you need to have a job offer from an American company that is willing to hire you. Thus, you must find an employer first and only after that apply for a visa. Your employer in the US will help you gather all the necessary documents.
There are several types of visas for international workers in the US, H-1B being the most popular.
H-1B is a work visa for high-skilled specialists. There’s a downside to it: US consulates have the right to issue only 65,000 H-1B visas a year (plus 20,000 for advanced degree specialists), while they get more than twice as many applications.
There are categories exempt from the cap. They include holders of master’s degree or higher as well as workers employed at institutions of higher education and nonprofit or government research organizations.
Another downside is that your employer will have to pay between $5,800 and $7,300 for your getting this visa. It means that the employer should have a significant motivation to hire you. The majority of them will hardly be interested in recent graduates or Junior workers. Thus, your chances to qualify for the H-1B visa would be higher if you’re at least a Middle specialist. At the same time, your education may not be of interest to the employer (work experience is what usually matters), but having education credentials relevant to your work experience may also raise your chances to get a visa.
H-1B application process:
1. You must electronically register and pay the $10 registration fee. To do this, you need to create an account on the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) website. In 2020, the registration remained open from March 1 to March 20.
Applications for H1-B and L visas were suspended on June 22, 2020 until December 31, 2020.
2. Your employer needs to get a Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the Department of Labor (DOL). That application confirms that the employer will pay you a wage which is no less than the wage paid to similarly qualified workers in the geographic area where you will be working as well as provide good working conditions. Your employer submits a completed LCA form to the DOL.
3. Your employer submits the completed I-129 form to USCIS.
4. Once the Form I-129 petition has been approved, you may apply with the US. Department of State (DOS) at a US embassy or consulate abroad for an H-1B visa. You may file an H-1B petition no more than 6 months before the employment start date. You also need to submit your education credentials (a diploma, certificate or degree) with English translations when applicable.
5. You must then apply to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for admission to the United States in H-1B classification.
The complete list of documents for the H-1B visa:
- Form G-28 (if you’re represented by an attorney or accredited representative).
- Copy of the Registration Selection Notice.
- Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. If your registration was submitted from March 1 to March 20, you must indicate an employment start date of no earlier than October 1.
- Addendums and attachments.
- H Classification Supplement to Form I-129 and/or Free Trade Supplement (for H-1B1 Chile and Singapore petitions).
- H-1B Data Collection and Filing Fee Exemption Supplement.
- Supporting documentation with a list of items (a job offer).
- Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94) if you’re already in the United States.
- SEVIS Form I-20 if you’re a current or former F-1 student or F-2 dependent (other US visa types).
- SEVIS Form DS-2019 if you’re a current or former J-1 or J-2 (other US visa types).
- Form I-566 if you’re a current A or G nonimmigrant (other US visa types).
- Department of Labor certified LCA, Form ETA 9035.
- Employer/attorney/representative letter(s).
- Copy of the petition, if necessary. Mark it as “COPY” so that it is not mistaken for a duplicate filing.
Since the filing of applications for the H-1B visa starts in spring, you need to find a job, get a job offer and gather documents before spring begins. Therefore, it’s recommended to start sending your CV in October or November.
The H-1B visa is valid for a period of up to 3 years. It may be extended, but generally can’t go beyond a total of 6 years. H-1B is not a residence permit, but a temporary visa that is valid as long as you have the same job you had at the time you applied. If your employment contract ends, your visa expires too.
After you’re granted an H-1B visa, your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may apply for an H-4 visa.
Currently, the Trump administration has limited the amount of H-1B visas to be issued to job seekers overseas due to the restrictions imposed on immigration. That means your chances of finding a job in the US are lower than before. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying.
Additionally, there is the L-1 visa that is issued to employees of international corporations with offices outside the US. The applicant is required to work for that corporation at least 1 year within 3 years before applying. For instance, if you worked for 1 year in Microsoft in Germany, you may be transferred to the same position within Microsoft in the US and get an L-1 visa. This visa is valid for 3 years and can be extended for a maximum of 7 years in total for executives or managers or a maximum of 5 years for other workers. After you’re granted an L-1 visa, your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may apply for an L-2 visa.
2. Finding a place to live
The first thing you should do after arriving in the United States is finding a place to live. As it may be hard to find a permanent apartment at once due to the high rental demand and the need to gather all the necessary documentation, allow 2 to 3 weeks to hunt for a home. Remember that summer is the worst season to look for an apartment in major cities as there is too much student demand.
Temporary accommodation can be offered by your employer. If not, you can find it on Airbnb or similar websites before you arrive in the US.
A permanent home can be found on one of the real estate websites:
The majority of listings in US major cities (except San Francisco) go through brokers, and renting directly from an individual homeowner can be a challenge. If you rent from a broker, expect to pay a broker’s fee that can range between 8% and 15% of the cost of the entire year’s lease. However, there is no rental broker’s fee in New York City.
Many US states have special rules that do not allow you to rent small housing and therefore save some money. For example, a family of three is supposed to rent at least a two-bedroom apartment or house.
To rent a house or apartment in the US, you will need the following:
- ID (your passport or US driver’s license if you have one).
- Resume with your contact information, previous residences, employer, your activities and information on your pets, if you have any.
- Reference letters from former landlords or your employer.
- Credit report. If you don’t have a credit history in the US, you can provide a credit report from your home country’s financial institution with a US presence such as HSBC or Citibank. If you have a credit history in the US, be aware that multiple credit checks can bring your credit rating down. So only apply for apartments you actually want.
- Employment letter with information on your salary (can be obtained from your human resources office at work). Choose an apartment or house that costs no more than 30% of your income — this is also what your landlord can use to determine your ability to pay. In New York, you’ll need to provide proof that your annual salary is at least 40 times the monthly rent.
- Other financial documents proving your ability to pay rent (US bank statements with current balances, income tax returns for the past 2–3 years, a foreign bank account with a high savings balance, etc.).
- Third-party guarantor (can be required in New York City). It’s usually a parent or guardian who lives in the United States, but foreigners may use third-party insurers as their guarantors.
- Security deposit (usually 1–2 months rent). It can be larger — 3 to 6 months of rent — if you don’t have a credit report and US bank account. This deposit will be held on an escrow account and refunded by the end of your rental agreement, unless you damage the landlord’s property.
- Move-in checklist indicating the condition of the rental house or apartment at the time you move in.
- One month’s rent in advance.
In most cases, you will sign a one-year lease. Most have a 30-day notice period meaning you have to inform your landlord at least 30 days before moving out.
Note that there’s a chance your employer can cover your moving expenses, security deposit, and broker fees.
Also note that there are two types of apartments in New York City: condos and co-ops. When you rent a condo, you deal with homeowners or a real estate company, and the process of renting is a standard procedure. And when you rent a co-op, you’re subletting the apartment from the co-op shareholder who holds that lease on the unit. In this case, there’s a co-op board that requires you to fill out an application, pay an application fee for processing your application and undergo an interview. Co-op boards may also impose stricter rules on noise levels, pets and guests.
3. Buying a SIM card in the United States
To live and work in the US, you may also need an American SIM card. You can buy it in one of the major retailers (such as 7-Eleven, CVS, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart) or from one of the retail stores of mobile phone service providers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, US Cellular).
Note that not all international phones are compatible with Verizon and Sprint networks. The majority of newcomers in the United States purchase AT&T or T-Mobile SIM cards.
Unlimited calls and texts are common on most plans. AT&T’s prepaid monthly smartphone plans start at $35 for 1 GB of data, or $50 for 8 GB. T-Mobile’s standard prepaid plans start at $35 for 3 GB of data, or $43 for 20 GB.
4. Getting a Social Security Number
Most companies will be ready to officially hire you only after you get a Social Security Number (SSN). It takes from two to three weeks to obtain it.
You need a Social Security Number (SSN) to be employed in the US, get your salary, collect Social Security benefits, and get some other government services.
Anyone age 12 or older must apply for the SSN in person and be interviewed by Social Security.
You need to apply for SSN at one of the Social Security offices and provide the following documents:
- Application for a Social Security Card. You can download the form at ssa.gov.
- Passport with biographical information and your photograph.
- US immigration document: Forms I-551 (Lawful Permanent Resident Card, Machine Readable Immigrant Visa) with your unexpired foreign passport, I-766 (Employment Authorization Document, EAD, work permit) or I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) or admission stamp in the unexpired foreign passport.
- Permission to work in the US: I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) or admission stamp in the unexpired foreign passport showing a class of admission permitting work or I-766 (Employment Authorization Document, EAD, work permit).
- Your foreign birth certificate (to check your age).
- Proof you don’t have another SSN: a current or previous passport, school or employment records, and any other record that would show long-term residence outside the United States.
5. Opening an American bank account
To get your salary in the United States, you need to have a bank account in the country. Many other payments may also require a bank account in the US.
Here are the most popular US banks:
- Bank of America
- Capital One
- JPMorgan Chase
- TD Bank
- Wells Fargo
To open a bank account in the US, you will need to visit one of the financial institutions in person and provide the following:
- Passport, US driver’s license or another state-issued piece of ID.
- Immigration documents.
- Employment contract.
- Social Security Number (SSN).
- Personal and contact details, including your address in the US.
- Utility bills with your name for the US address you provided.
- Debit or credit card from your home country.
- An opening deposit payment. If you make a large initial payment, you may be required to provide proof of funds (bank statements, sales agreements, etc.).
The list of documents may vary depending on the bank.
A basic bank account costs $10–15 a month. You may pay $25–100 a month in fees for a premium account, but will get access to other benefits such as free international ATM withdrawals or reduced charges for other services. Additionally, the costs of sending an international wire transfer can vary between $30 and $50 depending on the bank.
6. Obtaining a Green Card
To live in the US after your visa expires, you must get a Green Card, which is an American Permanent Resident Card. As the majority of IT specialists fall under the Immigrant Worker category, you can apply for the Green Card as a skilled worker (meaning your job requires a minimum of 2 years training or work experience) or as a professional (meaning your job requires at least a US bachelor’s degree or a foreign equivalent).
To get the Green Card, you need to:
- Have an immigrant visa (e. g. an H-1B visa).
- Have a job offer in the US.
- Be admissible to the United States.
The process of application for the Green Card is the following:
1. Have an immigrant petition (Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) filed by your employer on your behalf.
2. Wait for USCIS to approve the immigrant petition.
3. Complete and sign the Form I‑485, Application to Register Permanent Residence.
4. Go to a biometrics appointment at a local Application Support Center (ASC) to provide fingerprints, photos, and a signature.
5. Submit the filing fees ($1,140) and biometric services fee ($85; paid by those who are aged between 14 and 78).
6. Submit evidence and supporting documentation (see the details below).
7. Apply at a filing location. You can find addresses on the USCIS website.
8. Go to an interview at a USCIS office.
9. Receive a decision on your application.
Here’s the list of main supporting documentation:
- Two passport-style photographs.
- A copy of a government-issued ID with your photograph.
- A copy of your birth certificate (or church, school or medical records).
- Inspection and admission, or inspection and parole documentation.
- Form I-485 with the petition and Form I-140.
- Evidence you continually maintained a lawful status since arriving in the United States.
- Confirmation of job offer (on Form I-485 Supplement J).
- A signed statement confirming you intend to work in the occupational field specified in the Form I-140 if you are a self-petitioner.
- Form I-864, Affidavit of Support.
- Certified police and court records of all criminal charges, arrests, or convictions regardless of final disposition (if applicable).
- Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance (clip it to the first page of your application if you want to receive an e-Notification.
- Marriage certificate, if you’re married.
- Birth certificates for your dependent children, if you’re a parent.