There are many Canadian optometry students enrolled in optometry schools in the United States. As our graduation date approaches, many of us find ourselves looking for jobs and deciding where we will want to practice. There is a lot of information out there on how to write resumes, the best places to practice, the scope of practice, and who is hiring. However, there isn’t a lot about staying in the USA as a Canadian.
Why stay in the USA to practice?
More and more Canadian optometry students are leaning towards practicing in the USA, especially if they went to school here. Most stay because, at this time, it is more financially sound. Economically, the American dollar is higher than the Canadian dollar. Since we have a lot of debt to pay off, it makes sense to stay a little longer and pay off those loans a little sooner.
Other Canadian optometry students stay because of the wider scope of practice that includes prescribing oral medication, treating and managing glaucoma, and the ability to do injections. Finally, others stay because they have family down here, or because their preferred job openings back in Canada are not available at this time.
What do you need to stay in the USA?
The first thing you need is to start your Optional Practicing Training (OPT) as this can take up to 90 days to process and has been known to go up to 5 months! The OPT is a starting point for practicing in the United States. You can apply as early as 90 days before your last day of classes, which is recommended so that you can receive your papers before you start to work.
There is lot of work that goes into the OPT. Now, each school might be different, so I would contact your internal office and talk with them.
What forms do you need?
- An OPT form, signed and documented (I-765)
- Your previous or most recent I-20 (F-1)
- Your printed I-94
- Two passport photos with your last name and I-94 number printed on the back
- A money order to be sent to the Department of Homeland Security
- A copy of your passport, good for at least 6 months
Once you have all of this collected, I recommend bringing it to your international office and having them review it with you. If you did an externship or rotation site outside your school, you may have a Curricular Practical Training (CPT). This has its own section on the I-765 form. Once it has been reviewed, you will mail out your OPT packet to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which has TWO different locations and that depends on your home address in the USA.
What do I need after I get hired?
The second part of practicing in the United States as a Canadian student is getting a job! You need a job to stay in the United States.
There are some excellent sites to apply for jobs on the internet and even on Facebook. Make sure that your future employer knows that you are a Canadian, especially if you plan on living here long term, because they have to vouch for you the following year if you decide to get your H1B Visa. Some companies offer to hire you as an employee and that might be your best route if you are not planning on continuing to live in the USA after your OPT.
If you are planning on living in the USA for longer, then finding a practice that you can work as an employee is required, but remember that the H1B Visa is a lottery system, which means that if you do not get a Visa then you will have to leave the country and return back to Canada. The other way to stay in the USA is to get your green card, which you would have to marry an American, to work in academia (which is a whole other world of paperwork), or to have your employer sponsor you.
What happens after you have mailed your OPT?
Once you have mailed your OPT,you will receive an employment authorization document (EAD) card. This card provides you with a temporary employment authorization. Once the USCIS has reviewed your application then you will be legal to work in the USA for one year after your determined start work date. If you are staying in the states after your one year of OPT is over, you will work with your employer and lawyers to acquire a H1B Visa. You can however, have multiple H1B Visas and work as an employee for multiple practices, but as a Canadian you cannot be an independent contractor.
Important deadlines to keep in mind
- Apply for the OPT as EARLY as 90 days BEFORE your last day of CLASSES
- If you have a letter of employment BEFORE you apply for your OPT you can add that employer to the OPT
- There is a grace period of 60 days AFTER your last day of classes
- USCIS MUST receive your application BEFORE this grace period is over
- USCIS MUST receive your OPT application NO LATER than 30 days after it was created
- When you choose a start date, you CANNOT be unemployed longer than 90 days AFTER the determined start date
- It is NOT recommended to travel outside of the USA while the OPT is being reviewed (90 days after the USCIS receives your OPT application)
- If you do decide to travel, it is recommended to travel with your EAD card AND a letter of offer from your employer as proof of employment in addition to your I-20 (F-1) AND passport. HOWEVER, this is not a guarantee that you will be let back into the USA
Please note that the above is written off personal experience and in hopes to help guide you along. It is recommended to talk with your current school and international office for more complete details and information