New York is a city like no other, and to discover it for a visit often means to fall in love with it. If your dream is to move to the United States and live in New York, you've probably heard that it's impossible. That's not the case – but let's face it, getting the right to live and work in New York can be an uphill battle.
In this post, I'm going to walk you through the different ways to achieve your goal, and the steps that will be necessary to prepare and succeed in moving to New York.
Getting ready to live the American Dream
Moving to the other side of the world is no mean feat, and it is important to be aware that living in a city all year round is a very different experience to that which you might have if you were to simply spend a few weeks there as a tourist.
If you are a citizen of one of the EU member states, then you will need an ESTA to travel to the US. ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization, and this plus your passport will allow you to stay in New York for a maximum of 90 days.
Though no longer one of the EU member states, British citizens are still under this American visa-waiver program, and therefore do not need a visa for New York if they intend to stay less than 3 months in the city! Along with their British passport, only the ESTA will be necessary.
Note that ESTA is only a document that you can use to try to enter the US. It is not a visa and cannot be used in lieu of a visa: you can only use it for tourism and business travel purposes.
As such, if you fall under the ESTA, you’ll be able to spend up to 3 months in the US, as long as you have a valid passport and have an approved or valid ESTA. Of course, during this period, you will not be allowed to work on American soil.
This 3 month period will allow you to prepare your project to come and live in New York.
You can get an idea of the way of life of New Yorkers, the cost of living in New York and the atmosphere of the less touristy districts of the city.
During this time, you can start looking at the city with the perspective of a future resident. You will need to know how you will earn a living once you are allowed to work, find out what your obligations will be, weigh up the pros and cons, and make sure that you have the determination to take all the next steps.
If you are convinced that living in New York is what you want, then it's time to get serious about getting the right to stay in the US longer and getting a job.
The different ways to obtain the right to reside and work in New York
If, like me, you’re a normal human being, you will probably need to earn a living in order to live in New York. The cost of living is very high in New York, even more than in London, and having a job will be a necessity. But first you will need to obtain legal permission to work, i.e. a work visa or Green Card. For this, you will have several possibilities.
The Green Card Lottery
If you believe in your lucky star, and think that living in New York is your destiny, you can try the Green Card lottery. This lottery may seem like a last chance, to be tried only if all other possibilities have failed – but it doesn't have to be.
It is an official lottery, which allows 55,000 people each year to obtain the Holy Grail – the famous Green Card, the permit that allows foreigners to live and work on US soil permanently, without needing a visa.
This lottery is not totally random; far from it in fact, since quotas are provided for according to nationalities. As European residents are far from being the most numerous to register for this lottery, they are also among those who have the most chances to win a Green Card. To give you an idea, on average over the last few years, French people who have entered this lottery have had between a 1% and 2% chance of winning a Green Card.
Regrettably, not all countries can participate in this lottery. The lottery is not available for people coming from countries that have sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the United States in the past five years – such as the United Kingdom, for example. As such, I recommend checking whether you can participate in this lottery or not.
As for others, registration for this draw is completely free, so it would be a shame not to try.
However, if you are lucky enough to be selected, you will still have to go to an interview and be able to present your project, including how you will earn your living.
Going to study in New York
With a student visa, you can obtain the right to study in New York. To do this, it is essential that your education is recognised by the American government. You must also be able to prove that you have sufficient financial means to live in New York for a whole year.
With a student visa, you can arrive in the US 30 days before your course starts, and stay for 30 to 60 days after it ends.
If you have an F-1 visa (the visa provided to university students) you can benefit from the Optional Practical Training after studying in the US for a Master's or MBA, for example. After studying for at least 1 year in New York, an OTP will allow you to work in the country for 1 to 3 years depending on your field of qualification. It is the equivalent of a paid internship (although it is actually a fixed-term contract).
The possibility of doing an OPT is not automatic: you have to fulfil several conditions, and apply for it, of course. It will not necessarily be granted either: it is the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) which issues or not the authorisations after studying your file.
However, it is still a good option if you are accepted!
Obtaining a work visa
Let's talk about the most common solution – the work visa. I should first warn you: do not try to work in the U.S. without this visa or a Green Card: you would risk a 10-year ban from entering the United States. If you are reading this, I know that is certainly not what you want.
There are many different types of visas available in the US, but in practice it is your employer who will arrange for you to work legally. You will be able to obtain a non-immigrant visa, which is valid for up to seven years.
Your best chance of moving to New York is to approach companies directly, sending a CV and cover letter, and hope that your profile will appeal to an employer who will be willing to take you under their wing.
Many expatriates (who may now even be naturalised) have been there at some point in their lives, so contacting companies from your country, or companies with a boss sharing your nationality may help you to get more luck on your side.
Of course, if you have specific qualifications – especially those that are most sought after in New York (hospitality, finance, science...) – you will be much more likely to interest potential employers.
The Immigrant Investor Visa, for entrepreneurs
Not all of us are looking for salaried work, and it is still possible to move to New York even if you want to be your own boss. In this case, you will need to obtain an immigrant investor visa.
As you may have noticed, this visa is not called "immigrant entrepreneur", and for a reason. If you want to be allowed to set up your own business in the United States, you will have to invest a minimum of one million dollars. This capital can be reduced to $500,000 if your investment is in a disadvantaged sector.
This solution is therefore mainly for people who want to open a business, a restaurant or any other type of enterprise in New York. In addition to presenting a solid project, you will also have to commit to creating 10 jobs during your first 2 years of activity.
Alternative ways to obtain the right to live & work in the USA
In addition to these fairly standard methods, you can obtain a work visa or a Green Card in many other ways, which related to more specific cases:
- By marrying an American citizen;
- By having your employer expatriate you to the U.S., if you work in Europe in a company that is also present in the United States;
- If your spouse needs to move to the US for work, you and your children will also have the opportunity to obtain a visa;
- By doing a VIE (Volunteer for International Experience), a civic service abroad, you can go to New York for a maximum of 18 months. The main disadvantage is that the companies for which you will be working will not be allowed to hire you, so this situation will necessarily be temporary.
Finding year-round accommodation in New York
Once you have obtained the right to come and work in New York, it is time to really settle down. You will need to find a year-round flat. First, you will need to decide which borough of New York you want to live in, or at least target your flat searches 🙂
To find a flat in New York, you will need to prove your income. Most of the time you will be asked to earn at least 4 times the amount of your rent. You will also have to pay the first month's rent directly, as well as a two-month deposit.
As in Europe, you can go through an agency or try to find a private person. You will see many signs posted directly on buildings, indicating that flats are available for rent. By calling the phone numbers on them, you can quickly meet the real estate agent who is handling the rental.
If you go through an agency, you will of course have to pay an additional fee, which often amounts to about one month's rent.
Once you have found the right flat, you will sign a contract that will have to be renewed after two years at the latest, and everything will finally be ready for you to start your new life in New York.