9.3 The Visa and Immigration Issues
The processes for obtaining initial legal permit to work in America and Canada, and later for permanent residency, differ. On the face of it, the processes appear similar. However, the execution of the process, and the requirements and checks involved (and hence the risks of rejection), are quite different for the two countries.
The F1 international student visa for America has a built-in provision for what is called the Optional Practical Training (OPT). The OPT provision allows the international student to be employed in a full-time job which is directly related to your major or field of study for 12 months. The OPT provision can be used for summer jobs or for employment after graduation. Most international students exercise the OPT option after graduation because: 1) your employer may sponsor you for temporary employment permit beyond the OPT period, and/or for permanent residency (called the Green Card in America), and 2) your earning potential is the highest after graduation.
The OPT is simply an extension of the F1 visa for up to one year. Effectively, you simply have to inform your International Student Advisor at your college of your decision to pursue employment with a particular employer and complete the required paperwork. Beyond that, the Advisor completes the required documentation for the US INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service) to get the requisite permit for you. No particular checks, interviews, or questions are involved; all you have to do is show a letter of offer for employment, and you are should be set.
The process of obtaining a work permit, beyond the OPT period, and later the green card is a bit more involved and time consuming. This is how one typically goes about obtaining the green card: obtain the H1 visa for temporary employment and then apply for the green card. The green card process can take several months or even years. Since the OPT is only for one year, it is prudent to convert your status from the F1 to H1 visa. But you can not apply for the H1 yourself. Your employer is required to file a petition on your behalf to the US INS for the H1. Once the H1 petition is approved, you typically go to an INS office for an interview and collect the visa. Since the H1 is for temporary employment, you must stick to the line that you intend to stay in America temporarily, regardless of your future plans. This is very similar to the "visa game" we addressed in Chapter 6. The initial H1 visa could be for multiple years, but regardless of the initial duration, the H1 can be had for up to 5 years through extensions.
Once you have obtained the H1 visa, you can apply for the green card. Although you said earlier to the INS officials for the H1 visa that you intend to stay in America temporarily, you have the right to change your mind and decide that you intend to stay in America permanently instead, and thus apply for the green card. This is a "wink & nod game" that everyone plays; the INS officials know it, and so do the applicants.
The process for the H1 visa and green card is legalistic. You will be well advised to ask an immigration lawyer to assist you. Many employers in America will offer you this assistance at not cost to you, otherwise you may wish to retain an immigration lawyer at your own personal expense.