Physical therapist and certain other health care workers qualify under a process known as “Schedule A” which permits them to apply for an immigrant visa petition with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) instead of through the Program Electronic Review Management System Labor Certification (PERM).
According to Schedule A requirements, all physical therapists must be “employed as physical therapists, and possess all the qualifications necessary to take the physical therapist licensing examination in the state in which they propose to practice physical therapy” (20 CFR 656.10.).
In order to get a better idea of how the EB-2 works for physical therpists, we first need a brief overview of what it takes to get an EB-2 under normal circumstances.
The EB-2 is an employment-based green card that is reserved for those that have advanced degrees, those that can demonstrate that they have extraordinary ability in their field, and those that qualify for National Interest Waivers.
For the advanced degree requirement, you need to have a masters degree or higher. Alternatively, you can have a bachelors degree and 5 years of relevant experience in your field. Speak with your attorney to determine if your work experience qualifies as a substitute for an advanced degree.
The exceptional ability criteria can be a trickier subject. The USCIS requires you to present at least three of the following:
- Evidence of a specialized degree or certificate in your field.
- Letters that demonstrate that you have at least 10 years of experience in your field.
- Any necessary licenses required to perform your occupation.
- Proof that you are compensated a large salary for your work.
- A membership in a professional organization or association
- Documented recognition for your achievements in your field from esteemed peers and contemporaries.
Your attorney can let you know if any supplementary evidence can be substituted for the above.
National Interest Waiver
The last aspect of the EB-2 qualifications is the National Interest Waiver (NIW). Depending on your situation as a physical therapist, you might be able to qualify. The NIW allows you to bypass the requirement that you have a job offer and PERM Labor Certification. To qualify for this, you will need to show that:
- Your work benefits the nation and have substantial merit
- You must be in a unique position to advance your work (e.g. degrees, certifications, past experience, current progress, etc.)
- The U.S. must benefit more from granting you an NIW than it would by enforcing the PERM and job offer rules.
If you are looking to get an EB-2 for physical therapists but would like to open your own practice and therefore do not have an employer to obtain a PERM on your behalf, then the NIW may be your best bet.
EB-2 for a Physical Therapist
Since the U.S. Department of Labor has designated physical therapists in the category of occupations with a national shortage, they’re permitted to file for a green card by demonstrating that they have secured a permanent job offer to work in the U.S as well as speaking adequate English and a number of other qualifications.
Fortunately, physical therapists do not have to work only in locations with shortages–they can be employed at any facility in the country where they’ve been offered a position.
Here are the steps in getting an EB-2 for a physical therapist:
- The physical therapist EB-2 application consists of two parts. First, filing the I-140, then I-485 petition.
- You are able to file the I-140 petition immediately.
- The I-485 petition is only able to be filed once the priority date is current.
Requirements for Physical Therapist Outside U.S.
If you are filing while outside the U.S. the process differs slightly. Your employer should file the I-140 and Form ETA 750 (part A and B) with USCIS. After the I-140 is approved by USCIS, the petition will be forwarded to the National Visa Center and if there is no backlog for physical therapist visas in the country or the priority date is current, then the National Visa Center will be sent back to the applicant so they can fill out the remaining biographical information.
Afterwards, the applicant sends the completed forms the U.S. consulate in preparation for their interview. During the interview, the applicant should have the following documents readily available:
- Application for visa
- Police clearance
- Birth certificate and/or marriage certificate
- Divorce/death certificate of spouse (if applicable)
- Passport (valid)
- Medical exams
- USCIS photos
- Job offer letter/ employment contract
- Employer’s financial information
- Filing fee for government
Labor Certification Process
For occupations that fall in the employment-based category, the petitioning employer must have an approved/ certified Labor Certification from the Department of Labor. This certification demonstrates that the employer has tested the labor market (in that geographic area) to confirm that there are no qualified and available local workers who will accept that job offer.
Your employer will need to post ads for your position in several different places, including a widely-circulated newspaper, and interview each applicant with the intention of hiring a qualified candidate in your stead. This is in place to prevent employers from overlooking U.S. workers in favor of foreign workers. Your employer will also need to obtain the prevailing wage for your position in your geographic area and pay you no less than that wage.
Moreover, the certification is to establish that the employment will not negatively affect the wages or working conditions of U.S. workers. An EB-2 visa lawyer can help you best determine what additional documentation may be necessary for this certification.
One of the things that can seriously delay your EB-2 is a PERM audit. If your employer has set off one of the audit triggers or if your case was simply randomly selected, the Department of Labor will have your employer submit all relevant documentation and information to a Certifying Officer, who will evaluate your case. This can add nine months to a year of waiting time to your green card processing time. To avoid an audit, follow these steps and work with your immigration attorney
Other Work Visas for Physical Therapists
Physical therapist are also eligible for H-1B visas, although in 2009 the DHS was known to deny this visa for physical therapists who didn’t have master’s degrees (but were licensed). Today, physical therapists are typically eligible for H-1B visas since a bachelors is usually required for that occupation in the U.S.
Note that if you are a physical therapist abroad, you need to submit your credentials to a U.S. state therapy board in order to acquire a permit or temporary license. A complete list of state boards can be found here. If you choose this route, you’ll need to take the state licensing exam upon entering the U.S. then proceed to renew your H1B thereafter.
Who Else Can Apply for Schedule A?
The following individuals can also apply for Schedule A:
- Registered nurses who have received a job offer from a hospital or medical center in the U.S.
- Physical therapists
- Foreign nationals who fall into the category of shortage occupations
How An EB-2 Visa Attorney Can Help
Filing an EB-2 for physical therapists or any other employment-based green card requires the expertise of a qualified EB-2 visa attorney. The lawyers at SGM Law Group will explain every step of the process from start to finish. We provide free consultations to individuals seeking EB-2 for occupational therapists as well as other employment-based green cards. Give our office a call today to learn all of your options.