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September 29, 2021 1176

U.S. Work Visas for International Dental Student Graduates

As an international dental student (IDS) at an accredited IDS program, it is best to research and understand the process to obtain work visas in the United States at least 12 months before graduation. Finding an associateship and, further, an employer who will sponsor your work visa can take longer than the typical job search. Allow a minimum of three months and preferably six months to find an associateship as an IDS graduate. This section covers the various types of work visas applicable to international dentists who have completed an IDS accredited program in the United States.

Applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Visa Students

As an IDS student and once you successfully complete the state-specific licensure exam for where you wish to practice, you are eligible to file for the non-STEM Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT). To apply, you must:

  1. Request that your designated school official (DSO) at your IDS program recommend the OPT. Your DSO will make the recommendation by endorsing your Form I-20, Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status and making the appropriate notation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
  2. File Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS, accompanied by the required fee and the supporting documentation as described in the form instructions.

As an IDS student, you may apply for the Non-STEM Post-Completion OPT up to 90 days before you receive your degree, but no later than 60 days after you complete your degree. Further, you must apply within 30 days of your DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record. After approval of your OPT, you have 12 months to work under the OPT status.

For more information on the OPT for F-1 student visas, visit Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students | USCIS.

Visa Options for IDS Students To Work in the United States

The search for employment as an associate dentist should begin ahead of graduation. It is best to have an offer of employment to begin as soon after graduation as possible. Once the OPT is approved, you only have 90 days to begin employment. Employment can be through a private dental practice or a dental service organization (DSO)/dental management organization (DMO). Often, DSOs and DMOs are familiar with the sponsorship process when hiring internationally trained dentists, which makes this employment option enticing based on the tight timeframe in which you must find employment. However, a private dental practice owner can certainly hire and sponsor you to work in the United States. Further, an employer can hire you to meet the 90-day deadline for the OPT without sponsoring you immediately for the H-1B or PERM green card. However, it is in your best interest for the employer to commit to sponsoring you as soon as possible.

Once you are offered employment and the employer has agreed to sponsor you, you have two visa options:

H-1B Specialty Occupations Visa (Nonimmigrant Visa)

This is a professional visa in which the occupation in which you will work requires:

  • Theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge.
  • Attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.

The position must also meet one of the following criteria to qualify as a specialty occupation:

  • Bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum entry requirement for the position.
  • The degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations or, alternatively, the job is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree.
  • The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position.
  • The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.

For you to qualify to perform services in a specialty occupation you must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Hold a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree required by the specialty occupation from an accredited college or university.
  • Hold a foreign degree that is the equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree required by the specialty occupation from an accredited college or university.
  • Hold an unrestricted state license, registration or certification that authorizes you to fully practice the specialty occupation and be immediately engaged in that specialty in the state of intended employment.
  • Have education, specialized training and/or progressively responsible experience that is equivalent to the completion of a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in the specialty occupation and have recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions directly related to the specialty.

The H1-B visa is valid for up to three years and may be extended, but generally cannot go beyond a total of six years. Applicants must first register by the set USCIS deadline (date in March) and be selected prior to filing for the H-1B. If selected, the applicant can only file once a year on April 1 with potential approval in October, and there are limitations on the number of visas available each year. Within the three-year timeframe, the employer can sponsor the applicant for a green card. If you obtain the H-1B visa before employer sponsorship, you will be allowed to live and work in the U.S. long enough for the PERM green card to be approved without having to leave the United States.

For more information on the H-1B specialty occupations visa, visit H-1B Specialty Occupations, DOD Cooperative Research and Development Project Workers, and Fashion Models | USCIS.

Permanent Workers (PERM) Green Card for Immigrants

Immigrant visas for permanent workers are available each fiscal year in the United States for aliens (and their spouses and children under age 21) who seek to immigrate based on their job skills. There are five PERM employment-based immigrant visa preferences (categories) – Employment Based (EB) Immigration 1-5.

The PERM visa requires you to already have a job offer from a U.S. employer. This employer will be considered your sponsor. Before the U.S. employer can submit an immigration petition to USCIS, the employer must obtain an approved labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL labor certification verifies the following:

  • Qualified and willing U.S. workers are insufficiently available to fill the position being offered at the prevailing wage.
  • Hiring a foreign worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

If you have an offer of employment to begin right away after graduation from your IDS program and that employer wishes to start the process for a PERM green card immediately, there is a possibility the labor certification can be approved and an adjustment of status application filed prior to the expiration of the OPT. This would keep the applicant in status pending the adjustment of status application and without having to leave the United States and wait abroad for the immigrant visa. However, there can be delays in processing, and it is generally best to apply for the H-1B first to allow up to three years to obtain employer sponsorship.

For more information, visit Permanent Workers | USCIS.

This information is not intended to be used as legal advice. For information as it relates to your specific immigration situation, please contact CDA Practice Support for a referral to an immigration law attorney.

This chapter was authored by Practice Support with contributions provided by Armand Avazian, attorney at law, of Avazian & Avazian Law Group.