By Lara Friedmann
In two weeks, I will embark on a year-long adventure, thanks to a rare opportunity available to Aussie university students.
Armed with a few thousand dollars in savings and a dogged optimism about the months to come, I’m one of hundreds of Australian students to obtain the holy grail of American visas, a 12-month work visa.
The eligibility requirements from the program are fairly basic. You need to be at least 18, an Australian or New Zealand passport holder, able to prove you have at least $US2000 in savings to support yourself and be either a current full-time student, or have finished full time study in the last 12 months.
While the J-1 visa is available to non-students via other avenues, the pilot sponsorship program doesn’t require applicants to have a preapproved job before applying.
Instead, the visa is sponsored by US based company, International Exchange of North America (IENA) in partnership with IEP, an agency that specialises in working holidays.
This is what makes this J-1 program so special; finding work without being available for an in-person interview is near impossible, and the sponsorship makes dealing with the ever-tightening US border controls far easier.
IEP and IENA provide job support and a 24-hour hotline for participants for the duration of their visas. There’s also a private Facebook group for program participants to chat and share info, and tons of online resources to ease the transition.
New York City and Los Angeles are the two most popular cities for J-1 visa holders, with New York state and California the most popular states, receiving 6684 and 5084 visitors in 2016 respectively.
Brisbane native Justine Barker is one of the thousands who took the opportunity, and is in the last few weeks of her visa.
Due to leave on the 14th of November, Justine is waiting desperately to see if she can get her visa extended.
Justine moved to Los Angeles in November of 2016, and after three and a half months of hustling, managed to land full time work as a production assistant in the film and TV industry LA is famous for.
Now, she’s waiting tensely to hear if NBC is going to sponsor her for another 12 months of work, “I’m desperate at this point.”
Justine’s situation highlights the value of the program, particularly for those working in industries that have limited opportunities in Australia.
“This job has people that work on all the TV musicals, which is what I want to do, and the companies that produce them are who I want to work for,” says Justine. She finds out on Wednesday whether or not she can cancel her flight home.