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Postdoc J1 or OPT, PhD in US or Canada?

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Postdoc J1 or OPT, PhD in US or Canada?

Postby Sinaeh » Thu Apr 14, 2016 7:37 pm

Hi everyone!

I am a citizen of Denmark who has lived in the United States since 2007. I recently graduated in 2015 with a B.S in Biology from a university in Texas. I am currently now doing an OPT in a lab.

I have been admitted into two great PhD programs, one in the US and another in Canada. The program in Canada is the better research fit, however, I am very concerned of losing my F-1 visa status in the US once I leave the country. If I choose the school in the US, I am thinking I could do my postdoc as OPT rather than on J-1? However, if I pursue my PhD in Canada, I would have to return to the US on a J-1 visa.

Since I am from a european country, what are the complications of the two-year residency rule when on J-1? Is it a difficult process to waive this from a country such as Denmark? How difficult is it to transfer from a J-1 to H1b or another work visa?

I am very concerned about all of this, as I would like in the end to return and live permanently in the States. However, I also do not want to pick the US PhD just because of my fear of being on the J-1.

I would truly appreciate any feedback from anyone.
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Re: Postdoc J1 or OPT, PhD in US or Canada?

Postby Ana » Fri Apr 15, 2016 3:22 am

Usually when we see a problem as "should I do A or B" we are being too reductionist. There might be more options for you than a bad fit program in the US and a good fit program in Canada. Basically what you need to look for is a good program in the US if staying is indeed the best option for you.
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Re: Postdoc J1 or OPT, PhD in US or Canada?

Postby Onna » Mon Apr 25, 2016 11:42 am

The first question is, What is the PhD program with the best research fit? You said it's the Canada program. So that's the one you should choose if research fit is your biggest concern.

Notice you mention choosing the US program for fear of losing an existing student visa (F1 visa). But the moment you graduate you will loose the F1 visa status because you no longer are a student. It is only through the OPT (Optional Practical Training) you can extend your visa status, but only until the OPT ends.

Then you mix things between F1 visa, OPT, J1 visa ,work visa and transfers. This reveals you are very confused about the whole visa process in the USA, so I strongly suggest you go to the international office or visa office in your current university and find someone to guide you.

As a summary (based on my own experience):

1) F1 visa, this is the student visa that expires when you graduate, because you are no longer a student. You can extend through an OPT (Optional Practical Training), then it ends with the training.

2) PhD program in USA. If you are accepted into a PhD program in the USA, the university or funding organization (funding your PhD) will have to sponsor you. It could be as another F1 visa (student), but it could also be as a J1 visa (exchange visitor).

3) Some J1 visas have a 2-year home residency requirement. This is based on the bilateral treaty between the USA and your country, in this case, USA-Denmark. Look for the treaty in Google, and see what applies in your case.

4) if the 2-year home residency requirement applies, it is possible to obtain a waiver at the end of your PhD or when your J1 expires. It's a long process taking up to one year.

5) J1 visas don't have OPT. They have something similar with a different name, so you can still extend your stay in the USA on the same J1 visa as long as you do research-only postdoctoral stay

6) H1 visa is a work visa. You can only have access to it if an employer is sponsoring you. The process requires an immigration lawyer with a specialization in work visas. It's not a difficult process to go from J1 to H1 work visa (if you have secured the J1 waiver to residency requirement). The problem is to find an employer willing to pay the fees to sponsor you on the H1 work visa, and a lawyer who knows what to do.

There's a great deal of information an all visas and processes at the US department of State web page travel.state.gov. You can also contact your country's embassy in the USA and in Canada, and compare visa requirements.
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Re: Postdoc J1 or OPT, PhD in US or Canada?

Postby D. Martin » Tue Apr 26, 2016 9:13 pm

Besides Onna outstanding advice, in my experience, it is very hard to know which program you will fit better without being part of the program. At the end, the program will not matter as much as your PhD adviser. SO, you should see which university has the lab you will like the most and make sure that professor is willing to take you (and has the money to do it...)
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