“The United States has a lot to offer to an international student,” Max Harrington said. “If you want to study there, we welcome you as long as you want to study. We have a very diverse population, especially in the large cities. If you go to New York or San Francisco or Boston, you can meet people from around the world.”
Harrington is the vice-consul at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto, and on Feb. 25, he extolled the virtues of studying in his country to students at Centennial College’s main Progress campus in Scarborough.
“There are a lot of different languages, cultures and ethnicities; the United States is kind of a country of immigrants,” he said. “You won’t feel out of place, you won’t feel different or unusual, because a lot of immigrants have come to the United States.”
Harrington’s presentation covered topics like what students need to get a passport, what to expect in a visa interview, and the different visas for international students. The presentation lasted for 30 minutes, and was followed by another half-hour of questions.
But he also addressed immigration issues for non-students, like people who want to work in the U.S.
“For Canadian and Mexican citizens, there is a visa called TN non-immigrant visa, and it’s a result of NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Agreement,” Harrington said. “It’s great because the employer doesn’t need to petition for the employee. Basically what you need is to have a job offer or a contract letter or have a job on the NAFTA list. Then you just have to go to the border and apply for a visa.” He explained that a holder of a TN non-immigrant visa can work for three years.
“It is a very easy way for Canadians to work in the States. American citizens can also work in Canada in a very similar program,” he said.
Harrington himself interviews some visa applicants — and in his role as vice-consul, he has approved more than 20,000 visas.
There are a few lists of visas accessible for international students; they include the J-1 visa and the F-1 visa.
“The J-1 visa is for internships, research scholars… or for short programs (that) don’t need a degree,” Harrington said. “The F-1 visa is for a degree.”
When it comes to actual granting of visas, a visit to the consulate on University Avenue is often part of the process. Any person trying to get into the consulate will go through security screening; then a member of the staff will check the person’s passport and make sure that the information is accurate. Next, the person will be fingerprinted and have their photo scanned, Harrington explained. And an officer will ask questions along the lines of ‘Where are you going; what do you plan to do; what are you doing in Canada right now; how much longer are you going to be a student?’
“The officer might ask students for their transcripts,” Harrington said. “The officer might want to see how they are doing in the school.”
Another type of visa is the H-1B Non-Immigrant visa. This is one for people who want to work in the United States.
“The H-1B is for jobs in a specialty occupation, the jobs that require specialized knowledge…. The employer has to petition you in advance,” Harrington said. “The employer has to petition you through the Immigration and Naturalization Service first. Normally a lawyer will help the employee with the process.”
Some of the students in attendance wondered about recourse if a visa application is turned down.
“If a visa is denied you are welcome to re-apply as many times as you want,” Harrington said. “My recommendation to you is that you wait to apply until something has changed in the circumstances in your life.”
He went on to say that “the main reason why a visa is denied is the officer thinks that you tend to immigrate to the United States. You have to prove to the officer that you won’t attempt to immigrate to the United States or plan to live permanently.”
Celia Nzonlia is an international student from Cameroon, in her second semester of Global Business Management at Centennial.
“The presentation was really explicit and easy to follow,” she said.
“The great thing about the United States is if you want to study there, if you want to work there, we do have a large population,” Harrington said. “There are a lot of different cities, a lot of job opportunities and great schools…. If you are going only to visit, we have great places to go, beautiful national parks…. Plus, it is close to Canada, so that’s a good reason to go as well.