Physical therapists 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 a physical therapist 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 therapists, 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 master’s degree or higher. Alternatively, you can have a bachelor’s 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.
- 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 Therapists Outside the U.S.
If you are filing while outside the U.S. the process differs slightly. Your employer should file the I-140 and 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.
Afterward, the applicant sends the completed forms to 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
- Government filing fee
EB-2 Green Card Application Process for Physical Therapists
There are three major steps to obtaining a green card as a Schedule A physical therapist. The application process involves the United States Department of Labor, the USCIS, and/or the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence. They are as follows:
Labor Certification Process
For occupations that fall in the employment-based category, the petitioning employer must have an approved 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.
Once the application for the PERM Labor Certification is approved by the DOL, the next step is for your U.S. employer or to file an I-140 form, otherwise known as Immigrant Petition for an Alien Worker. In the petition, the employer must prove that you have all the requirements for the Schedule A visa. It must also show that you have the minimum qualifications to fill the position you are being offered at the place of intended employment. The petition must be submitted with strong supporting documents, which include:
- The ETA-9089 form
- A Prevailing Wage Determination issued by the State Work Agency (SWA) that has jurisdiction over the intended area of employment.
- I-140 form filing fee
- Evidence of the employer’s financial ability to pay 100% of the prevailing wage determination (such as copies of federal tax returns, annual reports, audited financial statements). For employers with at least 100 employees, a detailed letter from the Chief Financial Officer can be submitted as proof of financial ability.
- Copy of the posted Notice of Attestation. The notice must include the applicant’s job description, rate of pay, and work hours. It must be posted in the worksite for no less than 10 consecutive business days.
- Evidence of a license to practice in the state of intended employment.
Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing
Once the I-140 petition is approved, you will proceed by filing for adjustment of status or applying to obtain an immigrant visa abroad, depending on your location.
Adjustment of Status If You Are in the United States
If you are currently in the United States on a valid nonimmigrant visa, you will have the option to petition the USCIS to adjust your nonimmigrant status to Schedule A green card. You will need to file the I-485 form, otherwise known as Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
You can only submit the I-485 once your priority date is current and there is an immigrant visa number available to you. Your priority date is the date your I-140 was submitted to the USCIS. You will have to be checking the monthly bulletin released by the USCIS to know when the date will become current. Here are the details of how the green card priority date works.
It may take the USCIS several months to process your I-140 petition. The good news is that the time can be shortened with premium processing service. Premium processing is an optional service that allows visa applicants to receive a decision on their petition within 15 calendar days. With an additional fee of $1,440, you can submit a request for premium processing and expedite the process.
Consular Processing If You Are Outside the U.S.
If you are processing your EB-2 green card from outside the United States, you will have to travel to a U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence. This process is known as green card consular processing. Once the I-140 is approved, the USCIS will send it to the National Visa Center (NVC). You will receive a notification from the NVC indicating the processing fees you are to pay in advance. After making the payment, you will be instructed on the documents required to process your visa and how to submit those documents.
Once that is done, the NVC will schedule you for a visa interview at the embassy or consulate. You will also receive the list of required items to bring along for the interview. You must appear in person for the interview at the time indicated on the notice.
The interview will be conducted by a consular officer, and if all goes well and you are granted a visa. The visa’s entry period will be valid for six months and you will have to use the visa to travel to the United States before it expires. You will also get a sealed package which you must present to the immigration officer once you land in the United States. Do not open this package.
You will then undergo an admission screening, and if you are deemed admissible, you will be admitted to the U.S. and you can start working with your employer as a Schedule A physical therapist with permanent resident status.
Eligibility Criteria for Schedule A Green Card
To prove that you qualify for the physical therapist Schedule A green card, you must meet the following criteria:
- Have at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in physical therapy. The minimum degree requirement may vary depending on the state or the specific position. In some states, you may need to have a master’s degree or higher.
- Have a permanent license required to practice in the state you intend to work.
Another option is to obtain a statement or letter signed by an authorized official in your field indicating that you have the required qualifications to take the state’s written licensing examination for physical therapists.
VisaScreen® for Physical Therapist
The VisaScreen® certificate is another crucial requirement for all foreign physical therapists (as well as certain other healthcare workers) coming to the U.S. to practice either on an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa. The purpose is to certify that you possess experience, training, education, and proficiency in English comparable to what is required of a physical therapist in the United States. As a physical therapist, your VisaScreen® will be issued by the Commission of Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS), after you have completed the screening program which will include:
- An assessment of your educational records obtained from the schools or institutions you have attended. The records will be compared with the current requirements for the first professional degree in physical therapy in the United States.
- A verification to determine that all your professional healthcare licenses are valid and without restrictions
- An English language proficiency exam (TOEFL)
NOTE: The VisaScreen® Certificate is not required at the early stage of your Schedule A visa application. You will only be required to submit it when it is time for your visa interview at the embassy or consulate if you are going through consular processing. If you are in the United States, you will submit your VisaScreen® Certificate with your Adjustment of Status application.
Other Work Visas for Physical Therapists
Physical therapists 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 bachelor 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. 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 to ensure that all documents and fees are filed correctly. The lawyers at our firm will explain every step of the EB-2 process for physical therapists from start to finish. We will help you gather the necessary documents, file the initial petition, and handle any unexpected obstacles such as Requests for Evidence (RFE). Getting in touch and scheduling an appointment with our team of green card attorneys is as simple as filling out this consultation form.