Physical Therapists – OPT vs. Change of Status to TN Visa

Question: My wife and I are PT students in the US from Canada. We just applied for our OPT but do have employment and would like to change status to a TN visa right after graduation when we have our degree/license. Is this process a simple one, is it correct we need some forms to change status or can our new employer do all this for us? Also, we have 3 children now on F-1 visa with us will they automatically fall under our OPT or is there a process to get them to a "TD" visa from the F-1 we have now?

Answer: You have two options to obtain your TNs. You can depart the U.S. and file for your TNs at the Canadian/U.S. border. The TNs are issued the same day. Cost is $56 a piece for the filing fee and I-94 card fee.

Alternatively, you can file Form I-129 for a change of status from F-1 to TN (filing fee = $320). You would also file Form I-539 to change your children’s status from F-2 to TD (filing fee = $300). One caveat with filing the I-129 is processing time. You cannot work on the TN until the petition is approved, which can take 2-3 months. You can request expedited processing for the I-129 for an additional $1,000 filing fee (decision in two weeks). Of course, you could work under your OPT until the TNs are approved. Another important caveat: You need to remain in authorized status in order to file the I-129 (i.e. you must file the I-129 before your F-1/OPT status and 60 day grace period expires). If you file after your status expires, USCIS will deny the petition.

Under either processing scenario, you, an attorney, or the employer may prepare the paperwork. But ultimately, the employer must review and sign off on the paperwork (except for the I-539, which either you or your wife may sign).

I might add that it may be more beneficial to utilize your OPT initially. First, the OPT is not employer specific, which means you can change employers without first having to file for work authorization for the new employer. Second, you do not need to obtain a VisaScreen Certificate while working under OPT. You would need the certificate in order to obtain your TNs though. If you do not have your VisaScreen Certificates yet, you can utilize your OPT until you obtain them and then file for the change of status to TN.