Working Holiday Visa for America: An Overview


Many visitors to the US will require a visa. If you want to find a job while you’re there, or are considering living and working in America, you’ll almost certainly need a work permit or visa to cover your stay.

One option is to apply for a working holiday visa. In many countries these are issued to people within a fixed age range, to encourage younger travellers to explore during extended trips. The US offers study and exchange visas, including something called the Australia Summer Work Travel Pilot Program. Under this program, Australian citizens can apply for a J type exchange visa, to take up a study program, cultural exchange or seasonal work, as well as travelling in the US.

The application process and structure of this program is quite different to the working holiday visas which may be issued for other countries. This article will give you an overview of what to expect, and how to go about applying for your working holiday in the US. We will also briefly cover a great way to keep down your currency exchange and international payment costs while you’re abroad - the borderless account from Wise.

Types of Visa in the US

The US issues visas from within the following broad categories¹:

  • Tourism and visitor visas
  • Study and exchange visas
  • Business visas
  • Immigration and long term resident visas
  • Employment visas
  • Specialist visa categories

There are a huge number of different visa types, which are split and coded using letters and numbers. You’ll be able to check the visa options online, and use the visa tools available to identify the visa type which will suit you the best.

In this article, we will focus on the J type study and exchange visas, specifically the Australia Summer Work Travel Pilot Program which is covered by the J1 visa².

Why is a working holiday visa different from a work visa?

Working holiday visas are issued by many countries, to promote international exchange and allow people to combine travel and work in a new place. Usually there is an age limit - often applicants must be aged 18 to 30 to apply, and the visas can only be issued for a fixed period, often of 12 months.

This is quite different to a work permit or employment visa which is usually designed for someone entering a country to take up a specific job.

It’s good to know that the Australia Summer Work Travel Pilot Program operates a little differently to the working holiday visas which are issued for Australians looking to travel to many other countries. The process for applying, and the conditions of this visa type may not be familiar, even if you have already researched other working holiday visas, so doing some research before you plan your trip is a good idea.

In what situations are working holiday visas ideal?

Working holiday visas are a great option for people who want to take a longer trip to a new country, and may need to apply for a job while they’re there to cover some of their costs.

In the case of the Australia Summer Work Travel Pilot Program, you’ll need to be sponsored by an approved US program, which usually means you’ll be offered a job if you want one. This can be handy if you need some extra cash to make the most of your time in the US. More on this in a moment.

Interestingly, you can also apply for the Australia Summer Work Travel Pilot Program at any age. This is unusual, as most working holiday visa programs have an age cap of 30 years old. If you’re looking for a short term international working visa and are over the age of 30, this might be a good option for you.

Who can apply for a working holiday visa?

To take part in the Australia Summer Work Travel Pilot Program you must meet the following criteria³:

  • You must be an Australian citizen
  • You should be able to prove you are a recent graduate or have post-secondary education
  • You can not travel with any dependents under this visa type
  • Before you can apply for your visa, you must be accepted by an approved exchange visitor program.

Unlike with some other countries, to get a working holiday visa in the US you will have to first get the sponsorship of an approved American exchange visitor program.

These organisations can be found online, and their role includes some of the checking of applicants, as well as offering pre departure support and helping you find a job if you want one. You may pay a fee for the service that is provided by your sponsor. There’s more information on this process on the website of the US Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs⁴.

How to apply for a working holiday visa

Once you have found a suitable sponsor for your trip, and been accepted onto one of their programs, you’ll be issued with a form confirming your acceptance. This form - DS-2019 - will be used with you apply for your visa.

To get your visa, you’ll need to apply to your local US Consulate, in Sydney, Melbourne or Perth. You can check which consular office covers your region online, if you need to⁵. Then take the following steps³:

  • Pay your visa fee online, via the consular website, or by visiting a branch of Australia Post
  • Complete the visa application form and print it out
  • Schedule an appointment for a visa interview
  • Take your full set of paperwork and evidence to your interview
  • You’ll be notified of the outcome of your application after the interview

Before you attend your interview, be sure to check the documents and supporting evidence needed. The exact paperwork will depend a little on your circumstances, but could include³:

  • Copies of your appointment letter and application form
  • Your current and previous passports and additional passport sized photos
  • Proof of visa fee payment
  • Documents which show you have strong economic, social or family ties to Australia, which mean you will return after your visa ends
  • Proof of your financial ability to pay for your stay in the US
  • Evidence that you have the academic skills and qualifications needed for either the job or study course you intend to take up

How much does it cost?

There are several potential fees you will need to cover as part of your application process³:

  • Visa fee - $160, plus possible additional visa reciprocity fee based on nationality
  • Form I-901 SEVIS fee - check the SEVIS website for details⁶
  • If relevant, you may need to pay a fee to join and gain sponsorship from a designated US program

The costs of gaining sponsorship can vary widely, based on the organisation and the services offered. Shop around to find the program that suits you the best.

How long does it take?

You should be prepared for the whole process to take some time, as you’ll need to take several individual steps to get your visa and itinerary sorted.

When it comes to your visa, you’ll be able to get an estimate of the time taken to process your application, when you attend your interview. Applying early is a smart plan.

Planning a working holiday in the USA? Manage your money easily, and save on bank fees, with Wise

You’ve probably got a lot to think about, if you’re planning on taking a working holiday in the US. After you have found your sponsor and applied for your J1 visa, the next thing you should organise, is your money.

Accessing your cash while you’re overseas can be costly, thanks to poor exchange rates and expensive bank fees. Cut the costs by getting a multi-currency borderless account from Wise.

With a borderless account you’ll get local bank details to receive payments for free in both Australian and US dollars, as well as New Zealand dollars, euros and British pounds. This truly multi-currency account lets you hold your money in dozens of different currencies and manage them all using an app. You can send money to accounts all over the world for a low fee, and switch between currencies using the google exchange rate. There are no exchange rate markups or hidden costs to worry about, which can make it much cheaper than your normal bank.

See if you can save money with Wise, today.








All sources accurate as of 7 May 2019

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