For many people, the USA is still the land of their dreams. Despite the economic stagnation and the end of the new economy boom, America is considered to be the country of ambitious persons, who will make their American way, from 'rags to riches' or from 'bodybuilder to governor'. It is the traditional freedom of enterprise which leverages new business ideas faster and more simply in the USA than in Europe. Also, there are less barriers and conventions in terms of requiring a vocational education. That is why the USA remains a very attractive country for freelancers, scientist, doctors and all those who dream of a great career.
But many obstacles have to be overcome before this dream comes true. You can't just fly to the USA and search for a job because your stay is restricted by visa regulations. This means you have to be persistent and must use all means from home in order to find a job in the USA.
Entry and Residence
When you plan your stay in the USA you should thoroughly consider what exactly you are going to do there. Are you going to stay just for a couple of years or do you want to emigrate forever? Does your firm relocate you, are you searching for a job or do you want to start your own business? Entry without a visa is possible in very rare cases and limited to 90 days. Apart from that different types of visa apply to almost any type of vocational situation. The most frequent work visa (H1-B-Visa) is only issued to persons who have a university degree or a comparable qualification. In addition, there are special types of visas for less skilled employees or certain occupational groups (agricultural helpers, teachers etc.). If you are sent by your firm, you must apply for another visa as a person who wants to start a business etc. It is therefore imperative that you learn in advance which application you have to obtain.
Employees who have not been sent by their firm need a concrete job offer. Then the employer must provide evidence to the US Department of Labour that he cannot find an American employee with the same qualifications. Only then you can apply for your work visa. Furthermore, the USA has a very restrictive preference system for issuing employment visas.
If you have overcome these obstacles and have successfully applied for a visa you finally obtain a work and resident permit. The most common visa H1-B has a resident permit that expires after 6 years, sometimes different expiry periods apply to other occupational groups. After this time has elapsed, you can apply for an extension or an unlimited work and resident permit (Green Card).
You need a bit of luck to be granted a Green Card. On the other hand the process involves less effort because all you need to do is to file an informal application that has to be sent in time to the responsible department in Kentucky. The USA randomly select 50,000 of the sought-after unrestricted resident and work permits per year. The official name of this worldwide unique lottery is 'Diversity Visa Program' (DV). However, not everybody is entitled to participate in this lottery. Restrictions are in place that depend on the country of origin. In addition, participants must give evidence of 12 years school education or a minimum of 2 years professional experience within the last 5 years. Detailed information can be obtained from the US Department of State.
Furthermore, there are many organisations which coordinate the application procedure and help with the application in return for payment. Whether you instruct such organisation or not has no effect on the results because all applications that meet the requirements are treated equally, and the 'winners' are determined by a random generator.
Job Search and Application
Due to the fact that the visa formalities are also time consuming for employers, the particular employer must be really interested in you. Therefore, highly qualified candidates have the best chances if they are specialised in one of the sectors that are in great demand, in particular the service sector (e.g. IT, education, medicine, engineering and research). The growing globalisation, however, has the effect that not only production facilities but also whole IT or engineering departments are outsourced to the low-wage countries of Asia or South America. As a consequence, IT specialists are facing much stiffer competition than during the heyday of the New Economy. The only thing that helps is to stay on the ball and to persistently apply for jobs. With a bit of luck you will find your dream job.
As you are not allowed to search for jobs if you have entered the USA with a tourist visa, you should attempt to start your job search from home. Check out the online job boards (see links) and use your contacts for unsolicited applications. You should also take into consideration that you will have to fly to the USA if you have been invited for a job interview.
Your application should be clear and concise. The CV has to be in reverse chronological order so that it starts with the last job first. Be aware of political correctness and do not mention any religious beliefs or ethnical background. Also, it is not common to attach a photo. Apart from stating your qualifications and professional experience you must enclose references which US employers expect to receive with an application. Make sure that the persons who gave such references are informed and willing to assist because the potential employer might call them and ask in person for your qualifications. Furthermore, all documents which underline your character and your personality, such as a portfolio of work samples, charity work etc are helpful.
Even though social interaction in the USA seems fairly informal compared to the European standard, you should be discrete and try to avoid sensitive issues when it comes to small talk. The dress code is usually very formal, and men and women are expected to wear suits.
The land of the American Dream is also the land of hire and fire. As quickly as you are employed you can be sacked. This is due to the tiny influence of trade unions and the deregulated labour market. US-Americans are tough workers and capable of handling a huge workload. It is not uncommon to work 50 hours per week, and vacations are generally shorter compared to European standards. Low-income earners often have several jobs to secure a sufficient income. However, there are also many employers (in particular outside the big cities) who support their employees with e.g. company sports programmes and company owned apartments.
All occupational work in the USA is subject to social insurance, and the employers deduct contributions. The USA social insurance comprises services such as pensions for retirement, bereavement and disablement and unemployment and social benefits. Health insurance is always voluntary and, as a consequence, not generally covered by the social insurance system. Nevertheless, many employees are covered by a group health insurance taken out by their employer. Under certain circumstances, the employer bears the costs or they are split between employee and employer. You will, however, need an additional health insurance as many medical treatments and medications are not covered by such employer insurances. Then it is inevitable to compare the various schemes on offer as the scope of benefits varies widely between the insurance companies. Another great advantage of an additional insurance is that you do not loose your insurance cover if you loose your job. If you are working on an irregular basis as a freelancer, intern etc. you must arrange your health insurance yourself.