A J1 ‘work and travel’ visa is for students who are still in university or would be graduating the summer that they are planning to go. It is for a maximum of four months and you cannot work any later than September 15th. There is a thirty day ‘grace’ period after you complete your contract, where you can travel and explore the USA before returning back to the UK. I visited Boston, Atlanta and Orlando but I know others who visited more (and less) places. I chose to go to the USA because I wanted to learn more about other cultures and have a more ‘global’ view of the world, with the bonus of being able to travel afterwards.
How did you get your visa?
For my visa, I didn’t go through BUNAC as my programme wasn’t affiliated with them, nor was it affiliated with a camp counsellor program. Instead I went through IST Plus, which is the British partner of CIEE (Council on International Educational Experience) and had been suggested by my employer as a sponsor agency to use.
Most employers aren’t eligible to sponsor students directly, meaning that you must apply through a sponsor. The website http://goo.gl/dkk5Pd has a full list of sponsors but some, like CIEE, have different names in different regions due to the different partners they use. It’s best to ask your employer for recommendations as they will have worked with sponsors before and sometimes have a preferred sponsor for you to use.
However, if you don’t have a job before you leave, you should research sponsors and see how they will help you find a job once you arrive in the USA. Some have databases where you can apply for a job and then apply for sponsorship after securing a job, which is all done before leaving the UK so there is less to organise once you arrive in the USA.
I had a job offer before I applied for my visa, as I wanted to be sure of where I would be working and staying. If you’re a UK National you don’t need a job before you go as you have 30 days from when you arrive to find a job, but it’s advisable as many jobs are filled before the summer season starts.
How did you find a job in the USA?
I found my job through the university, who advertised a webinar with the employer and I followed through by emailing and asking for further information and the steps to take should I wish to apply.
When I applied, my CV was one page and in the same format that I use for jobs in the UK, but I edited the experiences to reflect skills that were suited to the hospitality and tourism industry, as my employer was a hotel and golf club. After submitting this to HR, I had a Skype interview with the head of HR where we went over my experiences and he asked if there were any particular areas that I wanted to know more about, so we began talking about food and beverage and the different roles as some of my work experience is related to this. You can sometimes ask for a specific role, someone I met was working at the front desk as he had been a customer advisor before so wanted something that was face-to-face and office based.
As I already had my job before I left the UK, there’s not much advice I can give about looking for work other than it’s best to have a job arranged before you leave. Most employers are in the hospitality industry and summer is when they are busiest so arriving in a place where there are many hotels, resorts and restaurants etc. can be a good idea.
Anything else I need to know?
After arriving you’ll soon have to register and apply for a social security number which is necessary as after a certain amount of time, a bank can withhold your pay if you haven’t given them your number. My employer arranged trips to the local office, and also helped with opening an American bank account but not every employer does this.
One thing to remember is to complete the monthly surveys sent by your sponsor to check that everything is running smoothly and voice any concerns and if you don’t you could be sent home early.
You should also be aware that these programs are run internationally and students come from all around the world. Most of my colleagues weren’t American and for some of them it’s the first time they’ve left their home country and they’re not always aware that other countries do other things differently so be patient and help them learn.
What did you get out of the experience?
From the experience I have vastly improved my customer service skills; my employer gave me full training on their standards and guests there expected high level customer service.
I’ve also made friends from around the world and learnt about their home countries and cultures. My self-confidence has improved, as I went by myself and didn’t know anyone when I first arrived, but now I can strike up conversations with people I hardly know because I’ve become used to it.
The work is tough, and the hours may be long, but it’s been a life-changing experience and a summer I won’t forget.