The J1 Visa and My Experience

AWNY member Erin Hammond shares her experiences applying for the J1 visa. The J1 visa offers cultural and educational exchange opportunities in the US through a variety of programs. 

The J1 visa is a great US work visa that a lot of young Australians don’t know about. It is designed for students or recent graduates to have a twelve month cultural experience in the United States, with the option to intern in your chosen profession. You can elect to do a pre-set agency program or choose your own job/internship. Either way, it allows young people who are interested in moving to the States, a one year working trial period to see if they enjoy it.

I was lucky enough receive a J1 visa, after a four month application process. I graduated in March 2014 and was on a plane to New York three weeks later. Job hunting as an international is challenging. If you are entry-level (and most of us are on the J1) and need a working visa, it’s double the challenge! Once I decided I liked living in New York, I quickly started scouting around for an entry-level job relevant to my background (and one that was E3 visa friendly, as I knew this would prevent future problems re-entering if my J1 expired before I found a job).

I did find a job in the administrative office of a private wealth management firm in Manhattan, and I simultaneously interned part-time in another position. The J1 visa was an excellent way to cut my teeth in the American workforce but here are the tip three job hunting tips I learned along the way:

  1.  Network. It sounded scary and I was hesitant to do it. Networking felt awkward and a purely transactional method to build relationships with strangers. But it’s absolutely not! My most valuable learning experiences and contacts have come through actively committing to expanding my network. Sign up on Meetup and start looking at Meetup groups within your profession. Everybody is there to share ideas and you will meet people and consider career paths you otherwise would not have previously. Follow up with all the business cards you get and maintain an active online and in-person network.
  2.  Learn how to use LinkedIn. This is where your networking comes in handy! Look up companies you would like to work for and scout around for any LinkedIn connections to chat about the company, any available roles, or even for a referral if you know the person directly. Ask any relevant individual if they would have half an hour to sit down for a coffee and discuss the company and any open positions. You’ll learn more than you think and you’ll be at the forefront of the employee’s mind next hiring round. Oh, and upgrade to Premium. It’s worth it.
  3. Be proactive. It can take up to six months to find a job here for a qualified worker, let alone an entry-level one. I was recently questioned very heavily when re-entering the US on a tourist visa as my J1 visa expired (and I had planned to renew it once back in the States). But this was scary and not an experience I would like to revisit again. I of course had honest intent but to avoid this experience on a tourist visa, start job hunting while you are here!

I am not an immigration lawyer and this post is just about my personal experience. But I do think it’s helpful to share these insights in case you or somebody you know is trying to make their way to this gorgeous city. There are several visa options out there.

If you know of any recent graduates who are looking to make the move, I can recommend Rachael Hitch at Grow USA highly enough. She made the process so simple. Additionally, get in contact with me as I’m always happy to sit down and have a chat with any other expat Aussies!