This article explains immigration pathways for foreign physicians. For a comprehensive look at healthcare immigration for Human Resource Leaders, click here. For a detailed overview of healthcare immigration for foreign medical graduates or foreign medical students enrolled in U.S. medical training programs, click here.
The United States is predicted to have a significant shortage of qualified physicians in the next several decades. As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, and with medical advances keeping seniors alive longer and longer, they are needing more and more medical care. In addition, the doctors from this generation are retiring at a rapid pace, which means fewer physicians are available to provide the care that is needed.
Visa Options for Foreign-Born Physicians
With this shortage of U.S. doctors expected to continue, the United States has created or amended several visa types to help bring in the needed physicians. If you are a doctor—or are training to be a doctor—and would like to work in the United States, take some time to learn about the following US work visas that foreign born physicians can take advantage of.
The H-1B visa is one of the most in demand options out there today. While this visa type can be used by professionals in many industries, it is quite popular for doctors. In order to get approved for this type of visa you need to have an existing job offer for full-time employment with a US employer. This can be a hospital, university, clinic, a doctor’s office, or a assisted living community.
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In addition, you must have already completed your medical degree from either a US based school, or an acceptable school in a foreign country. You will need to apply for, and receive, your medical license for the state in which you plan on working too. Finally, you need to complete either the United States Medical Licensing Examination (parts I, II and III) or be eligible for the limited exceptions to this requirement (see below). The H-1B quota is quickly filled each year, so you will need to plan far ahead with the help of a skilled business immigration attorney like those at FordMurray. Or, if possible, secure a position with an H-1B Cap Exempt employer, such as a non-profit hospital with close ties to higher education institutions. Download our H-1B Visa Guide for more information on H-1B visas.
The O-1 visa can be a good option for many well-established doctors who are looking to come to the US to practice. This visa, however, does require a significant amount of documentation in order to qualify. To be approved for this visa type you need to be able to demonstrate (through awards, publications, or other evidence) extraordinary accomplishment in the medical field. In addition, the position for which you are going to work must require someone of well-above average skills and experience. Your abilities must be corroborated by a consultation letters, which are essentially detailed letters of recommendation from other respected experts in your specific field.
While it can take some time to gather together all of the documentation and evidence you need to apply for an O-1 Visa, the approval period is actually quite fast. Once everything is submitted, O-1 visas are typically approved or denied within a few weeks, which is faster than the H-1B visa or most other options. Additionally, physicians who qualify for the O-1 visa are exempted from the USMLE examination requirement (note, however, that State licensing requirement may still require USMLE passage).
If you are a doctor from Canada or Mexico, the TN visa may be the perfect option for you. This visa was created as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. It is essential to note that this visa is for physicians who are going to work in the US as either teaching or research doctors. While you are able to work with patients directly, the total amount of time providing patient care should make up less than 10% of your total duties.
J-1 (with a J-1 Waiver)
The J-1 Visa is an excellent option for foreign doctors who may be able to enter an educational exchange program, but there are some concerns to be aware of. The visa allows physicians to attend residency and fellowship programs in the United States. This requires successful passage of the ECFMG examination and acceptance into the training program. If you want to stay in the United States after completing your training (or apply for a Green Card), however, keep in mind that there is a rule in place that states that you must first go back to your home country for a period of two years. This, of course, is a major hardship for many people.
Waivers can be granted for this two-year requirement if you have a US citizen spouse or child who will have significant difficulty related to you having to return to your home country. They can also be granted if there is a significant risk of persecution should you return home. The most common waiver option, however, is granted by getting an official recommendation from an Interested Government Agency (IGA) in need of your services or by securing on the 30 Conrad Waivers each U.S. state may confer in exchange for three years of service in a qualifying medically underserved area. For more information on the Conrad 30 Waiver, download our guide. If you are a foreign physician and are exploring your employment options, read more about how to find a healthcare facility that might qualify as a sponsoring organization.
The E-2 Visa is set up for investors who want to come to the United States, but can be used for doctors in some cases. If you are a physician who is looking to invest heavily in a medical business in the US, this may be a great option if you have a passport from an E treaty country. Physicians can come to the US and open a medical office, for example, and qualify for the E-2 Visa. The requirements for this visa include an investment of at least $100,000, a business that employs at least 2-3 people, and you must be the majority owner of the business. This visa would not be appropriate for a physician seeking to undertake clinical medicine but can be useful for those seeking to start-up healthcare related business ventures. You can hire employees from your home country using an E Visa. Download our E Visa Guide for more information.
Get Help with Your Visas
While it can be intimidating to get a visa to come work in the United States, don’t give up. The US is in need of great physicians and with a little work, this can be a great opportunity for you. FordMurray Law is here to help you find the right visa for your specific situation and guide you every step of the way in achieving your work visa goals. Whether you are a US employer or individual foreign-national, we are here to work on your behalf and make the entire process as simple as possible. Give us a call today to learn more.