Shirley Tang is an immigration law partner at Cohen Tauber Spievack & Wagner in New York. She has 25 years of experience advising business executives and talent managers on employment-based immigration. She earned her juris doctor from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She can be reached at email@example.com.Read Articles Written by Shirley Tang
Dr. Aaron Massecar is the vice president of VEGucation at Veterinary Emergency Group. Since completing his Ph.D. in philosophy and habit development, he has focused on bringing evidence-based practices to veterinary education. He and his veterinarian wife are Canadians living in Colorado.Read Articles Written by Aaron Massecar
The competition for talent in the veterinary industry is staggering, leading some practices to consider hiring international veterinarians. Here’s what you need to know about recruiting foreign talent and how employers can navigate the complex U.S. immigration rules.
Q: For practice owners struggling to fill open positions, what resources are available to help with the hiring of foreign DVMs, and what types of work visas are available?
A: An effective tactic is to build relationships with U.S. universities. International students on F-1 visas who graduate from a U.S. DVM program are eligible to work in the United States as veterinarians under post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT). They are allowed to stay up to 12 months provided they are licensed and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. Since veterinary medicine is a STEM field, the graduate may apply for a 24-month OPT extension if the employer enrolls in the government’s E-Verify program and if the initial 12-month OPT was based on a STEM degree. This means the foreign DVM graduate can work in the United States for up to 36 months on OPT and even change employers. (Learn more about F-1 OPT at bit.ly/3xOBQ12.)
In addition, while the foreign DVM graduate is working on OPT, the employer can submit an H-1B registration to secure longer-term employment. The H-1B visa program allows employers to temporarily employ highly educated foreign professionals in jobs classified as specialty occupations. In broad terms, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines these as jobs requiring degrees in specific fields of study. The initial term under the H-1B visa is three years and can be extended for a total of six years.
The disadvantage of the H-1B category is the annual cap of 65,000 visas, plus an additional 20,000 for foreign professionals who graduated from a U.S. master’s or higher degree program. The H-1B registration period opens annually in March. In 2021, USCIS received over 300,000 H-1B registrations. Because of the high demand, USCIS conducts a lottery. If the agency rejects a candidate’s H-1B registration, an employer can submit second and potentially third registrations in subsequent years. However, there is no guarantee that the foreign DVM graduate will win the H-1B lottery.
An alternative for practice owners is to hire veterinarians with H-1B visas who are working in the United States for private employers. The veterinarian can petition USCIS to change employers. The process is called an H-1B transfer and is not subject to the annual quota.
Q: What about other types of work visas?
A: Citizens of Canada, Mexico, Australia, Singapore and Chile are eligible for visas not subject to the H-1B annual cap. For example:
- Canadian and Mexican nationals can receive a TN visa under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Veterinarians are among the eligible professionals.
- Australian nationals qualify for an E-3 visa.
- Singaporeans and Chileans qualify for an H-1B1 visa.
Q: What is the typical timeline from initial contact to the first day on the job?
A: Foreign DVM graduates on OPT can start work immediately if they have employment authorization documents granted by USCIS.
If the graduate succeeds in the H-1B lottery, the processing time is about three to four months, or faster if USCIS’ internal workflow permits premium processing. Such expedited service costs $2,500 and guarantees adjudication within 15 calendar days. Once approved, the veterinarian’s H-1B visa is effective Oct. 1, the start of the U.S. government’s fiscal year. In most cases, the foreign DVM graduate can work under the so-called H-1B “cap gap.”
Currently, TN, E-3 and H-1B1 visa applications are eligible for premium processing, so the turnaround time to onboard a foreign DVM is about 30 days or less. H-1B visa transfers typically take four to six weeks. TN visas for Canadian nationals are especially fast because those veterinarians can present their applications to a NAFTA officer at U.S.-Canada air and land borders. Their visas are processed on the spot.
Q: How should veterinary practices handle immigration delays?
A: Be flexible with a recruit’s start date. Since the role of a veterinarian qualifies as a specialty occupation under H-1B rules, significant delays involving USCIS are rare. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused considerable backlogs at U.S. embassies and consulates. If your foreign DVM is abroad and needs to apply for a visa to enter the United States, ask the veterinarian to secure an emergency appointment, which is available in limited situations.
Q: What can a practice owner do to make the clinic more attractive to a foreign DVM?
A: Most important are a strong management team, transparency, and a focus on work-life balance, personal wellness and culture. From an immigration standpoint, foreign professionals prefer to work for employers that will sponsor a green card, also known as a permanent resident card. The green card process normally takes 18 to 24 months. Citizens of India and China have significantly longer wait times due to visa backlogs.
Q: Which concerns do foreign professionals tend to have?
A: The United States has among the highest standards of health care practice and ethics, so a foreign-trained DVM must learn and adapt to U.S. standards. Another concern is the uncertainty associated with the immigration process, starting with the fear that a visa might not be renewed upon expiration, that USCIS will deny a visa or that employment will be terminated suddenly. Most foreign professionals who relocate to the United States establish roots in their new communities, and many are married and have school-age children. An employer should maintain clear communication and manage expectations in navigating the immigration processes.
DID YOU KNOW?
Exempt from the H-1B numerical cap are U.S. institutions of higher education, nonprofit entities related to or affiliated with U.S. institutions of higher education, nonprofit research organizations, and government research organizations.