While working in the U.S. isn’t difficult for most Canadians, it’s not as simple as changing jobs within your own country’s borders. There are processes to follow and eligibility requirements to meet, which vary depending on your career, experience, education and employer.
If you’re a Canadian considering working in the U.S., here are five things to think about as you plan your next career move.
1. U.S. Work Visas for Canada — Canadians in the U.S.
There are four categories of U.S. work visas available to Canadians. Understanding which one is right for you is an important early step.
H -1B Visa — Specialty Occupations
For Canadians seeking temporary work in a “specialty occupation,” you’ll need an H-1B visa. A specialty occupation is defined as one that requires at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalents, such as an accountant, computer analyst, web programmer, engineer or financial analyst. You can’t apply for this visa on your own; a U.S. employer must sponsor you for an H-1B visa.
Every year, there is a lottery of 65,000 H-1B visas available for applicants with a bachelor’s degree. An additional 20,000 visas are made available for applicants with a master’s degree. Valid for up to three years, the H-1B visa can be renewed for an additional three years for a maximum of six years. One of the advantages of this type of visa is that you may be sponsored for permanent residency while in the U.S. on a visa.
TN Status — NAFTA Professionals
While the term “visa” is often used, Canadians aren’t actually issued a “TN visa.” Instead, if approved, they are granted “TN status.” Similar to the H-1B visa, the TN status is granted for three years, but it may be easier to obtain.
You can apply for a TN status either in person at a port of entry to the U.S. (such as a major Canadian airport or a land border) or by your employer filing a petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration. However, you must qualify under one of the approximately 60 professions on the professional occupations list in order to be eligible for TN status.
Unlike with the H-1B visa, a Canadian with the TN status must demonstrate an intention to return to Canada upon its expiration. While this might not be an issue for your first application, getting multiple extensions could be tricky as a border officer may conclude that you have no intention of returning to Canada and deny your renewal.
L-1 Visa — Managers and Executives
The L-1 visa allows a U.S. employer to transfer a manager or executive from a Canadian office to one of its U.S. offices. To be approved for this visa, you must have been working for the employer in Canada for at least one year and going to the U.S. to work as a manager or executive. In this case, your employer would file a petition to transfer you to the U.S. office under an L-1 visa.
O-1 Visa — Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement
The O-1 visa is for an individual who possesses “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, or who has a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry,” including national or international awards and achievements.
2. Identify the kind of U.S. employer you want to work for
Many Canadians choose to work in the U.S. for the variety of opportunities that exist south of the border. Large corporations, innovative start-ups and leading-edge healthcare, technology, finance and architectural firms offer exciting career prospects.
As you consider your move to the U.S., it’s wise to take some time to think about the type of employer that aligns best with your career goals and professional values. At the same time, it’s a good idea to determine if a prospective employer has experience hiring Canadians. If they’ve sponsored Canadian employees in the past and have the visa application process down pat, you may have a better chance of a successful outcome. If they’re new to the process, determine if they have the resources and information required to see it through.
3. Determine the best location for your profession
Your particular career path and profession will likely determine the city and state that offers the best opportunities for you. While New York City may be the country’s financial centre and San Francisco is currently the epicentre of U.S. technology, other areas have emerged as leaders in various industries and may be worth considering.
For example, data published in a pre-COVID environment demonstrate such shifts. According to the website Learn to Code With Me, Atlanta and Austin began to outrank San Francisco as the top cities to launch a tech career in recent years. Meanwhile Massachusetts, Virginia and Texas rank as the top three states to pursue a career in architecture. For healthcare, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Providence, RI are considered to be the top cities for healthcare professionals. According to the Robert Half Career City Index, the San Francisco Bay area, pre-pandemic, topped the list as highest for overall career prospects, followed by Seattle, Washington D.C., Boston and Salt Lake City.
As you explore your career prospects south of the border, it’s worth looking into the number and quality of opportunities available within American cities — the results may surprise you!
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4. Consider which U.S. city aligns with your lifestyle and values
The U.S. is large and diverse with a wide range of beliefs and perspectives on political and social issues across the country. While you may feel relatively at home in one city, the mindset of another may not align with your values and outlook. At the same time, consider that urban centres will offer more lifestyle and cultural experiences, while other cities may offer outdoor adventures.
The Robert Half Career City Index ranks quality of life, cost of living, cultural diversity and other highlights that may be worth exploring as you research your move. After all, while you may be moving for work, you want to make the most of the other benefits that come with life in the U.S. As you examine your options, however, be sure to consider how the COVID-19 pandemic may have affected the cities you’re looking into.
5. Assess how long you’d like to stay in the U.S.
Is your move south of the border a temporary stepping stone to gain new experiences you can bring back to Canada? Or are you hoping to make the U.S. your home long-term? You may even change your mind along the way, but your plans may shape the type of visa, employer and city you pursue.
Having both a short- and long-term plan for your U.S. career move can help you make choices with a certain amount of flexibility which will ultimately enable you to achieve your goals.
Moving to the U.S. for work is an exciting step in your career. It’s also a big decision that requires some research and reflection so you can find the city and company that will support both your professional and personal objectives.
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.