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What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to New York

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  • Javier Vazquez

    Even in a crowded city like the Big Apple you can easily get lost. With InterNations I've made some really good friends and also added to my business contacts.

Relocating to New York

  • The city that never sleeps has a lot to offer, especially for expats, as there is a great diversity of nationalities and languages.
  • New York is divided into five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.
  • Depending on the purpose of your stay in New York, you either have to apply for an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, both of which have different categories.

The influx of immigrants moving to New York reached its pinnacle in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Nowadays, the population has risen to about 8.5 million inhabitants. With an estimated 800 languages spoken in NYC, it is also one of the world’s most linguistically diverse cities.

The reasons for moving to New York have changed only slightly over the centuries, and the city continues to fascinate especially young people from all over the world. Historically speaking, moving to New York meant a fresh start in a safe haven. Millions of immigrants came to New York in order to escape oppression, persecution, or poverty.

Along the same vein, some of the city’s main selling points are its booming economy as well as the buzz and excitement created by its sheer size and cultural riches. New York City is the backdrop of countless movies, television shows, and books known to a worldwide audience, and this even further amplifies the strange fascination that fuels many a dream of moving to New York. One thing holds true even today: in New York, everything seems possible.

The Bigger the City, the Harder the Decision: Where to Live in New York

For expatriates moving to New York, deciding on a neighborhood can be incredibly difficult. Lucky expats either live in corporate accommodation or at least get HR support in finding a home.

Others are faced with a difficult choice: How does one decide where to live in a city covering upwards of 468 square miles (1212 km2), or in a metropolitan area stretching over more than 6,720 square miles (17,405 km2)? This decision is, of course, very individual and is usually based on many personal factors such as cost of living, income, proximity to work, schools, green spaces, etc.

However, this short overview might help people thinking of a move to New York narrow down their options and get a rough idea of New York City’s neighborhoods.

A Place for Families: Metropolitan New York

A couple of short paragraphs couldn’t possibly do justice to the vastness and diversity of the New York metropolitan area. Metro New York is a viable place to settle down and has some obvious attractions, especially for families or people who might find the prospect of moving to New York City itself too daunting.

While property is a lot cheaper outside NYC, owning a car may become a necessity, and working family members could face a long and stressful commute every day. Moving to New York City proper might appeal mainly to the young and childless. With the possible exception of Manhattan, however, all boroughs do include family-friendly residential neighborhoods as well as hip and more expensive areas.

New York City: Neighborhoods

Manhattan: The Financial and Cultural Center of the World

Manhattan’s skyline is dominated by world-famous skyscrapers housing the headquarters of countless corporations and the US branches of many multinational companies. It’s among the most famous on the whole globe, and it will be familiar to everybody thinking of relocating to New York.

The UN headquarters, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Wall Street, Times Square, and the One World Trade Center are among Manhattan’s most defining features. At the same time, the borough also houses an abundance of cultural attractions, such as the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and Broadway.

As Manhattan is very densely populated, it’s generally not the most popular borough among families. However, Manhattan neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side and the East Village rank quite highly in many “livability” indexes. They mainly attract a younger crowd of bohemians and professionals who value the area’s exciting nightlife, but families should be able to find their place there, too.

Tribeca, a neighborhood just north of the One World Trade Center, scores highly in many categories as well, with its good public schools, fantastic transportation links, and very low crime rates. It is thus a very attractive option for families in Manhattan, even though only the wealthiest can afford to live there.

Art and Diversity: Welcome to Brooklyn and Queens

Brooklyn is the most populous of the five boroughs and home to people of various cultural, social, and ethnic backgrounds. It boasts its very own arts scene and a great deal of noteworthy architecture. This is also where you will find Coney Island, one of the oldest amusements parks in the country, located on Brooklyn’s long beachfront.

Some neighborhoods recommended for families are Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Williamsburg, all of which have low crime statistics, a lot of green spaces, and good public schools. While prices for accommodation are very high in these areas, they do reflect good value for money.

Queens is the largest borough in terms of surface area, and it’s among the most ethnically diverse communities in the whole country. The growing population is a good indicator for the popularity of Queens’ mostly residential and middle class neighborhoods, such as Sunnyside, Woodside, and Jackson Heights. Queens is also home to two of New York’s international airports, John F. Kennedy International Airport and La Guardia Airport.

A Bit Farther Away from the Vibrant Center: The Bronx and Staten Island

There are a number of new residential projects and regeneration processes going on, especially in the South Bronx, but despite that the Bronx may still be the least desirable borough to live in. Arguably most famous for being the cradle of hip hop and rap, the Bronx nevertheless has a vibrant street culture.

The median household income is lower than elsewhere in New York, and the quality of housing can vary greatly. However, the derelict facades of abandoned buildings, a common sight in the 1980s, are now a thing of the past. Among the more attractive neighborhoods are Riverdale, Schuylerville, and Co-op City, but commutes to Manhattan are long.

Staten Island is the most suburban of New York’s boroughs, and, fittingly, public transportation in general is below average. The subway does not operate there, and the only mass transit linking Staten Island to Manhattan is the free Staten Island Ferry, popular with commuters and tourists alike. Due to their proximity to Manhattan, in all likelihood, neighborhoods like West New Brighton or St. George on the North Shore are particularly desirable among expats.

New York: Visa Categories and Application

Visa Categories: There’s More Than Just the Green Card

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) distinguish between immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas. For immigrant visas, there are five preference categories for employment-based immigration, EB-1 through EB-5, along with the infamous Green Card, officially called the Diversity Visa Program. On the website of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, you can find more information on the Green Card Lottery.

Preference categories EB-2, EB-3 and EB-4 are for people with high qualifications and/or special skills required for a particular job in the US. The onus of proof, so to speak, lies with your prospective employer, in the sense that they must obtain an approved Labor Certification from the US Department of Labor.

This certification must provide evidence that, firstly, no equally suitable US candidate could be found to fill the vacant position. Secondly, it should prove that working conditions and wages of US citizens in similar jobs will not be adversely affected by hiring an overseas worker.

Employers will not need to acquire a Labor Certification for expats in academics, executives of multinational companies, outstanding artists, internationally renowned athletes, and foreign investors (EB-1 and EB-5). You can read more about immigrant visas and permanent workers on the USCIS’ website.

For Temporary Workers: The Nonimmigrant Visa Categories

There are numerous categories of nonimmigrant visas, which are listed and explained in detail on the USCIS’ temporary workers page. Most of them are initially limited to a period of three years and cater to people in Specialty Occupations (H-1B) or Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement (O-1).

The most popular category is E-1, a visa for Treaty Traders and their employees. In most cases, it can be extended indefinitely, and it allows accompanying family members to apply for work authorization. To qualify for the E-1 visa, the applicant must be a national of a treaty country and carry out principal and substantial trade with the USA.

Temporary business visitors who qualify for entry into the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) do not need to apply for a visa, but have to register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to arrival. They need a valid, machine-readable passport, and their stay is limited to 90 days. If you do not qualify for the VWP, you need to apply for a B-1 Temporary Business Visitor visa, with which your stay is limited to six months.

After You’ve Made Up Your Mind: Applying for a Visa

While immigrant visa applications are processed at the National Visa Center, applications for nonimmigrant visas are usually handled by a US embassy or consulate in the applicant’s home country. Nonetheless, most categories require the applicant’s prospective or current employer to file a petition with the USCIS first.

As mentioned, an approved Labor Certification from the US Department of Labor might be required as well. As soon as you receive your approved Form I-129 petition, you should arrange a personal interview at your nearest US embassy or consulate, using the receipt number on the petition.

Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) must be completed before the interview and presented together with a valid passport, a passport photo, as well as any other required documents.

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  • Javier Vazquez

    Even in a crowded city like the Big Apple you can easily get lost. With InterNations I've made some really good friends and also added to my business contacts.

  • Noemi Roussel

    The top events organized in the New York chapter helped me get to know expat women from France and many other countries all over the world.

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