If I had a dollar for every time I heard the question “what visa are you on?” I’d be sitting on a beach in Aruba sipping on frozé posing with pink flamingos right now. When you meet other Irish living in America the conversation moves to visas within minutes. “Hi my name is Sophie, I live in Brooklyn, I work in marketing and I’m on the J1, you?”

I moved here on the 1-year Graduate J1 visa in November 2016, almost a year after my graduation from college, right before the cutoff date. I had known for years I would love to move to New York one day but decided to work for a year at home first to gain experience before finally biting the bullet! It definitely hasn’t been an easy process and visas have become the bain of my life, but I am still here so it has obviously been worth it! You can read more about my experience so far HERE.

Basic information regarding visas can be found online but it is a real struggle to find the answers to my more nitty gritty questions. Especially regarding issues that are not exactly by the book. Like getting around the “intern” issue and finding a job that will be approved.  Along the way, I have learned A LOT and there are a million things I wish I had known from the start. So, today I am going to try brain dump all the information I have in this post! Hopefully, I will answer some of the questions you might have about moving to America!

But first, what’s the story with Trump?

Unfortunately, this week (30/8/2017) it has been announced that the 2018 Graduate Visa is not certain to go ahead, it is currently “under review” by the white house. This is very worrying and will be devastating for upcoming graduates planning to make the move in 2018. USIT has said that you are still able to get this visa for the rest of the year, and those who are currently on it don’t need to worry about being deported.

There have been many other changes put into place regarding the number of visas available. For example, the H1B has been reduced to 66,00 this year and is also under review for 2018. It seems that all visas are in question and it is uncertain what the outcome will be. Let’s hope it won’t be as bad as we are expecting!

You might like to read the following articles for more on this matter:

  1. Wall Street Journal
  2. Numbers USA
  3. CIEE

Different USA Visas

Before I get into this I want to say I am not an immigration lawyer so please do not take this information as fact. I have spoken to many lawyers, some better than others and have gathered this information from either them, my own research online or from speaking to others about their experiences. Please let me know if you spot any mistakes or know further information on any of the following visas.

The Graduate J1 Visa

In Ireland, college graduates have the opportunity of applying for this visa within one year of graduating. So if you finish college in May but don’t graduate until November, you will have until November of the following year to obtain this visa. The Visa allows you to work in the US for 1 full-year (with an optional month of travel before & after). The whole process of getting this visa can take anywhere from five weeks to two months so the sooner you plan the better, I applied for mine in August and moved in November. There is also a limit to a number of J1 visas given each year, and this limit changes regularly.

There are a few companies that will provide you with this visa from Ireland including USIT, Go4Less, Irish International Immigration Center and Inspire Learning. I got mine with USIT and the process was rather painless however they do keep very much on top of you in regards to getting an internship and checking up every few weeks. I have friends who got their visas through the Irish International Immigration Center and dealt with far less red tape.

The J1 is a training visa meaning you are supposed to work as an intern, and not be replacing an American citizen who could do the job. You are required to fill out a training program and have your employer sign off on it before your visa host company approves the role. You are not supposed to start your new job before this training plan is approved.

If your employer is ok with saying whatever your visa host company wants to hear then these restrictions do not necessarily apply. Many people obtain full time, senior roles and start before the “training plan” is approved. Just be smart about it….

The Career Training J1 Visa

This visa allows you to work in the USA for up to 18 months. Unlike the J1, you are required to have a job organized in advance of moving. I don’t think there is any way around this. Again, you are required to fill out a training plan which must be approved by your visa host company.

It was once possible to transfer from the J1 graduate to this 18 month visa through a few loop holes, but within the last year, this appears to have changed. Changes have come into place where you must return home for two years after the J1 before applying to the 18-month visa. This has thrown a major spanner in the works as many people had planned to make this switch including me. Now I have heard people getting around this, but I think it is risky and was told by an immigration lawyer that it can eventually be revoked. Please contact me if you know any more on this!

The H-1B Visa

This visa, if you are lucky enough to get it, is one of the best. I say lucky because it is literally based on a lottery system, and you actually need to get through the first lottery before getting into the main one….. Confused? You’re not alone. A lawyer I spoke with called the H-1B the “heart break visa”. So much work goes into the application so to be unsuccessful based on a draw can really suck. There is a limit to how many they give out each year and this limit is dramatically decreasing, especially this year.

There is a deadline to apply for this visa which is in April every year. Your employer needs to sponsor you for the visa and you will need the help of a lawyer.  I have friends that were very prepared and applied for the H-1B this year but unfortunately didn’t make it past the first lottery.

The H-3B Visa

This Visa is for those working in companies that participate in international business and would benefit from the applicant receiving special training, with the intention of the applicant eventually (within two years) returning to their home country (or Europe in general if you’re European) to act as a representative for the company.  You need to work with a lawyer to create a petition to prove the above. The training also needs to be unique and cannot be got in your home county. It seems unlikely that many people would qualify for this visa, but if you have a good lawyer they may be able to word things in a certain way to help you.

The O-1 Visa

The O-1 visa is for people who can be described as an ‘individual with extraordinary ability or achievement”.  But who is extraordinary? Apparently, you are super special if you have recognized achievements and national or international acclaim. You must also show you have or do business (i.e are making money) from your achievements, preferably within America. There doesn’t seem to be a limit to the fields you can be extraordinary in and it quite common with scientists, athletics, artists, and actors. Freelancers and well-known bloggers are also another categories, however, I have been told they are getting far stricter on this.

The L Visa

This visa is for intracompany transfers. So, if you work for a company in your home country that has a US office you can (if they want you to) transfer. You need to be at a managerial level or have specialized knowledge and have been employed by this employer continuously for 1 year. So, a company you are working for in Ireland could send you to the States to continue working for them there. This is probably the most pain-free way to move to America if you are lucky enough to qualify.

The E-1 Visa

If you are employed by a company in your home country who decide to set up an American branch it is possible for you to obtain the E-1 Visa in order for you to move there with them. I don’t know many of the details but I am sure there is a lot more to it.

Other Visas:

J1 Summer Visa- students will use this to work or intern in America. It is for a maximum of four months and recent changes have come into place that you now need a job set up before moving over. You must be currently enrolled in a third level degree.

The Green Card:

Here’s what I know. It can take up to two years to be processed, there is no way of knowing how long yours will take because the lead time constantly changes. You need to be living in America while your green card is being processed, meaning you must already be on a long-term visa.

The ESTA– This is the holiday visa for trips up to three months. You cannot work legally on this visa.

B2 Visa– a Six-month visa that allows you to sightsee, visit family and friends or receive medical treatment in the US. Like the ESTA you cannot work legally.

Believe it or not,  there are many more visas than the ones I have mentioned above. To see a full list you can visit HERE.

Most Frequently Asked Questions

How much do visas cost?

Obviously, it depends on the visa but in general, they don’t come cheap and you can expect to pay a few thousand. The 1 year J1 Visa through USIT includes a 450.00 euro deposit and is approximately 2730.00 euro in total depending on flights, due 12 weeks prior to departure. They book your flights for you.

The HB visas are approximately five thousand but may vary with the cost of a lawyer.

Do I need a lawyer?

For the J1 visas you will not need a lawyer, but for almost all of the others, you most likely will need one. The process of obtaining a visa is very complicated and expensive so you want to make sure you are doing it right. The lawyer will create a petition on your behalf and will know how to word everything to give you the best chance. The organization you work for will hopefully help you with this, otherwise, you can simply google Irish Immigration lawyers to get a list of firms. It would be a good idea to reach out to anyone you know who has been through a visa application and have a lawyer recommended to you, as some seem better than others.

How long does it take to get a visa?

This varies depending on the visa. The J1 can take anywhere from five weeks to two months, depending on demand. Other visas typically take several months although in some cases there is an option to have your application expedited for an extra fee. For example, the Hb3 can take over four months to process, but it can be fast tracked to 15 days for a fee of one thousand. This premium route means you will know far sooner, however one downside is that your application will be reviewed by a premium judge who is typically more strict. It is more likely that they will come back to you looking for further information, or may deny your application altogether. So the premium route may not be the best thing if you are less confident with your application.

The deadline for the HB1 visa is in April, the result of the lottery is announced in September but your visa will not start until October.

Do I need to go home to get a new visa once my current one ends?

Yes, typically you will need to visit an Irish embassy outside of America for your embassy meeting to obtain your new visa. I have been told you don’t necessarily need to go to Ireland, that for example, the Irish embassy in Canada will work too but I’m not 100% sure on this.

What happens in the embassy interview?

It is important to book your embassy interview well in advance prior to your departure date. They will also hold on to your passport for five days so keep that in mind when booking your flights. You will need to bring all your documents and passport. A full list should be provided to you by your host company. You will not be allowed to bring your phone, food or anything else in through the airport type security. Once inside, you will wait in line to go up to your first window where you hand in your documents and passport. Then you will join another line and wait to go up to the second window. Here you will be asked questions regarding your reasons for wanting to move to America, questions about your plans there, do you have any friends, family, where will you be staying and also about previous visas if you had any. My experiences in the embassy have always been ok. It is a nerve wrecking experience but as long as you have everything in order and are smart about how you answer the questions you should be ok.

Your host company should give you more information on the whole process and the questions you can expect.

Can I transfer from one visa to another?

This is tricky as I have heard different things from different people. To transfer from the J1 to other visas- it is possible but it is expensive, will take several months, and you will need an employer involved and lawyer to help with your petition.

From what I have heard most recently, you are required to return home for two years before applying for the 18-month trainee visa, after being on the J1.

J1 FAQ’s

How long do I have to get a job on the j1?

You have 90 days from the date your work papers start. If after the three months you have not managed to obtain a job, it is possible to get an extension as long as you prove you are been actively looking and have had some bad luck. USIT will also ask you to prove you have sufficient income to sustain yourself and may ask you to have a guarantor such as your parents to provide for you if necessary.  I am not sure how long this extension is for as I think it is done on a case by case basis and may not always apply.

Can I only get an internship or can I get a real job?

Yes, your placement in the US must be an Internship and it cannot be replacing American workers. But…. If you speak to your employer and they are ok with filling out the training plan as if you are an intern then you should be able to get away with working in a more senior role. It will all depend on your employer, and typically they are not too fussed.

(Of course, I would personally never do this. . !)

Can I get a bar job/ babysit?

Technically you are not supposed to but it is still very common and I haven’t heard of anyone run into problems doing this especially when it is just for a few weeks while looking for a full-time job or internship. A friend…. Worked in a bar and did some babysitting while searching for a real job. My friend didn’t give her real tax number so it couldn’t come back to bite her if she eventually applied for a second visa. Irish bars are a great place to look because they will understand your situation.

(Once again, I would personally never do this. . !)

I hate my job, can I get a new one?

Yes, but you will to fill out a new training plan and have it signed off once again. If you leave a job, they may contact CIEE and let them know, CIEE will not give you very long to find a new one so have a plan before you go anywhere.

For more common FAQs visit USIT’s website HERE.

Where can I find more information?

USCIS (U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services)




Irish International Immigration Center

Inspire Learning

Unfortunately, this week (30/8/2017) it has been announced that the 2018 Graduate Visa is not certain to go ahead. This is devastating news for upcoming graduates planning to make the move in 2018. Hopefully, this will not be the outcome. For information on how you can help save the J1 visa see HERE.

Like I said at the beginning, this information is based on what I have learned from speaking to various people and online research. Do not take any of this as fact, and please let me know if you spot mistakes. I am going to try to keep this post updated as we learn more over the next few months. As always, feel free to contact me via email HERE if you have any questions.

Visas are by no means simple, but if you have the determination almost anything is possible. Good luck!

You can read the rest of my moving to New York blog posts HERE!




(P.S I reallllly hate visas, and proofreading this post, and visas).