What I Faced Starting Out As An Immigrant Podiatry Student
Foreign students have a difficult immigration road ahead of them and hopefully this blog will give them more of a path than before.
When a foreign student gets accepted for matriculation into a school in the United States, the first step to actually start there is to get a student visa. As easy as this is to apply for, the real deterrent is that to cross the border to start their schooling, students have to prove that they can afford to pay for all four years of their education at once. To issue a student visa the US Government requires a letter of acceptance by the student’s school and the tuition for the student’s entire education at that particular school. This has to be separate from any proof of attaining any student loans (which is a whole other blog in and of itself). Immigrant students then have to get a letter from a bank stating that the funds are available and liquid.
Not so easy to do. I had to do it by having a close relative sign over his retirement funding to me and then have me sign it back to him once the bank drafted the letter stating that I had the funds available. Thank goodness for that family member.
Once the student is in school, there’s no problem but residency is a whole different ball game. In order to “work” in the U.S., a student has to attain an H1-B1 work visa. This is where the problems start.
There is a cap for the country as to how many residents receive H1-B1 visas every year and once that cap is reached, you have to wait another full year and get in that line. The cap number restarts every October 1 and generally by our Match Day, the cap has been reached. What this means is that the student then has to wait until October 1 of the following year to have a chance at a visa.
Fear not. Once the student attains a residency, residents can then wait in line for the following year’s numbers cap to reset. Even better is that students who want to continue to “work” for the time they are waiting for their visas can extend their student visas for one additional year as an “optional practical training” year, which allows them to stay another year as a “student” as long as they are training within their profession, which they obviously are doing.
Residency directors have been burned with this in the past. Their residents don’t know the process, don’t get themselves a good immigration attorney and don’t get on the ball to get the papers they need right away. I totally understand the trepidation that if a resident doesn’t get his or her visa, he or she must leave immediately. This leaves residency directors high and dry.
This process can cost students/residents over $5,000 and it must come out of their pockets. Big hospitals and training facilities generally have intimate knowledge about this process, and can help both the student and the residency director overcome this harrowing process. However, it does take some fortitude. (Luckily for me, my residency director decided to take a chance on me and I am grateful to him for it.) It is doable but all involved have to be invested. Most of the time, residency directors don’t even have to be involved as the training facility can give the prospective residents all they need to complete the process. It’s stressful and not cheap but certainly worth it.
The H1-B1 visas are good for up to three years but residents can renew them for another three years. This is important because if foreign residents want to continue to work in the U.S. post-residency, they have to start the Green Card process as soon as they get that first job. This is a little more of a challenge as whoever hires these residents has to realize that he or she is committing as a sponsor for the new employee. Once again, this is completely up to the new employee to get the ducks in a row and pay for it. Generally, the employer will have to sign several documents but also realize that he or she is committing to this young, new employee for some time.
The exact process for obtaining a Green Card is way beyond the scope of this blog. Ultimately, it can take a good long time and cost a small fortune for the foreign student who has graduated from a residency program. We (my wife is Canadian as well) had many hiccups during the road to Green Cards for each of us. It took six years and close to $60,000, but we finally got our Green Cards a few years back. We are very excited as we will be eligible in February to finally apply for naturalization and eventually citizenship. I entered the U.S. in 1995 to start at the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine so you can imagine what a long road it has been.
I am obviously not an immigration attorney and things may have changed since my wife and I went through the process. If you are interested in learning more, please find yourselves a good immigration attorney. If you don’t know where to start, send me an e-mail and I would very happy to help you with contacts and someone who can answer your questions, students and residency directors alike.