F-1 / OPT vs. TN Visa Status

Question: I am a Canadian citizen currently in my last quarter of undergraduate studies at an American university. I have a job offer with an American employer who has offered to help me obtain a TN visa. I am in F-1 status right now and have the option of applying for OPT to work here for a year after graduation. My question since the TN visa application process occurs at the point of entry in the US, in the case that I will be denied, should I apply for OPT now (since it takes about 3 months to process) in case my TN gets denied at the border?

Answer: It may be beneficial to secure employment authorization under Optional Practical Training (“OPT”). In fact, OPT may have a few advantages over TN visa status, which you should consider before applying for the TN. The Employment Authorization Document (“EAD”) you receive through your OPT provides you with open-market employment authorization, that is, you may work for any employer in any position provided the work is directly related to your major area of study. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (10) (ii). Under the TN visa category, you’re limited to 63 occupational categories that you may work under. Unless your position falls under one of these categories, the TN may not be a good fit.

After your OPT ends, you have 60 days to remain in the U.S. This grace period is not available under TN visa status. During the grace period, you can change status to TN if applicable. If you are not eligible for one of the TN visa categories, you should consider filing for the OPT, and then submitting an H-1B visa petition in April 2008. Provided you obtain an H-1B visa number, you would be able to change over to the H-1B on October 1, 2008. In this way you can work-off the H-1B for a three year period (and renew for another three years).

Reminder: You must request OPT before completion of your program and no earlier than 90 days before the end of the academic year. I would speak to your school's International Student Office to find more precise deadlines.