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Expats Working in the United States Of America

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: January 2015

Permission to Work

In most cases, you will need to have been offered a job for your application for a work visa (Employment Authorization Document) to be successful. To secure a job in the USA, a degree or many years’ relevant experience is normally required. Most of the positions available to expats are for skilled workers. This is because US companies are obliged to look to hire local applicants first, if they are available. If you are planning to live permanently in the USA, you will need to obtain a green card (for more details, see Settlement, Residence and Citizenship.) This may take a long time, but once you have a green card, you are free to work in any of the states.

It is easier to get a job in the USA is if you have worked for an international company for at least a year. You can then apply for an intra-company transfer to the company’s US branch. This makes getting a work visa a much simpler process than otherwise. To do this, however, you will need to have a position at managerial level or have specialist skills that are in demand.

Unless you are required to speak English as part of your job, you are not legally obliged to do so. Nevertheless it is important for your career prospects to be able to speak English fluently. There are many opportunities to learn English in the USA. For a list of English schools in your area, see this website.


Working Conditions

In the USA, the world’s flagship of untrammelled capitalism, the employer is undisputably king. Conditions for workers have been mediocre for a long time; in recent decades, employment rights have been even further eroded. Immigrants flock to the USA in their millions, persuaded by the force of Hollywood and other media that they too can live the ‘American Dream’. The irony is that, as far as work conditions are concerned, they might have been better off staying at home.

The average working week in the USA is 40 hours, and workers are expected to work overtime when necessary. This, however, is true in several countries. Far more reprehensibly, there is no guaranteed federal amount of annual leave. The amount of annual leave granted depends on the whim of each individual employer. The average amount of leave per year is 10 days, which is well below the world average.

Moreover, unlike all other industrialised countries, that there are no federal guarantees for parental leave. In some states, workers are entitled to 12 weeks of parental leave, but this is unpaid; the company cannot be made to pay them a penny. There are only two states that have implemented paid parental leave schemes: California and New Jersey. Similarly, guarantees for paid sick leave are virtually absent in the US, only being applicable in California and New York. In some other states, workers are entitled to up to 12 weeks of sick leave, but again this is unpaid.

It is not all bad news. Workers are guaranteed a minimum wage in all US states except the Southern states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. In most other states the minimum wage rate in 2014 is set between US$7.25 and $10.10 per hour. To see the current rates in individual states, have a look at this overview by the US Department of Labor: Minimum Wage Laws in the States. You might also be interested in the overview of average earnings per job occupation in the US provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. US labour laws do provide some wide-ranging protections for workers, though these differ considerably from state to state, so you should check the applicable state labour regulations. To read more on individual state legislation, see the National Conference of State Legislatures website on State Laws on Medical and Parental Leave.

This page gives details on the working conditions and the immigration procedures necessary to obtain work in the USA. For more information about working in the US, see our Employment and Business articles.




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