Foreign medical graduates often desire to leave their country to further their careers in the United States. The H-1B is highly sought after by foreign professionals seeking employment in specialty occupations within the U.S. However, obtaining an H-1B visa for doctors and physicians comes with its own set of requirements.
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Because of the high demand for this class of visa, having your application approved for an H-1B visa or getting H-1B status is not always easy. Having a thorough understanding of the visa requirements and heeding legal counsel can help you avoid common delays and pitfalls.
In the past, physicians have been using the J-1 visa to practice in the U.S. This option, however, came with a two-year foreign residency requirement after medical training that was often hard to fulfill. Now, under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990, medical professionals were able to apply for the H-1B visa for doctors to avoid the residency requirement.
U.S. employers are allowed to legally hire qualified foreign professionals on a temporary basis based on their acquired skills. In order to be eligible for the H-1B visa, the U.S. employer as well as the potential employee must follow the USCIS conditions and regulations. The visa requirements strive to ensure that the U.S. employer and foreign professional comply with the Department of Labor standards.
An H-1B visa for doctors can be obtained by applicants who aim to:
- To teach or conduct research at a public or nonprofit private educational institution
- To participate in a residency program
- For employment for a U.S. company that complies with USCIS conditions and regulations as a physician or doctor
The U.S. Department of Labor sums up the H-1B application process in three steps:
- Submit a labor condition application (LCA) to the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC).
- Once the LCA has been certified by the OFLC, submit it to the USCIS along with the “Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker,” Form I-129. While the petition includes some of the same information as the LCA, the USCIS reviews information on both documents to determine whether the job meets the requirements of a specialty occupation. It also decides whether the prospective H-1B worker meets the statutory requirements in that occupation. USCIS approval is provided by Form I-797.
- Any foreign workers located outside the U.S. should go to the Department of State (DOS) to obtain a visa to work in the U.S. with a specific employer for a designated calendar period of time. If the foreign worker is already in the United States, USCIS provides the nonimmigrant an I-797 approval notice which gives the individual the ability to work pursuant to the approved H-1B petition.
Once an employer obtains the certified LCA and the approved petition, the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) enforces the attestations within the LCA. This includes the material facts and labor condition statements.
H-1B Visa for Doctors and Physicians Requirements
- The position that you are seeking must be a specialty occupation by definition. Fortunately, medical professions qualify as specialty occupations.
- You must be paid at least the actual or prevailing wage for your occupation which is defined by the Department of Labor’s (DOL) regulations.
- The employer must file an H-1B petition on behalf of the doctor or physician. They must also work for the petitioning employer and follow the terms of the approved H-1B status. The doctor or physician may work part-time for more than one hospital if each hospital petitions the medical professional.
- Physicians and doctors must demonstrate that they’ve earned and possess a degree from an accredited medical school in the U.S. or have the foreign degree equivalent of an M.D. degree in the U.S.
- Applicants must demonstrate competency in both written and oral English examination administered by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).
- You must have passed all three parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
- To get an H-1B visa for doctors, you must have an unrestricted state license which allows them to practice medicine in their given state or have the authorization to practice medicine. Every state has unique requirements regarding post-graduate medical training, educational requirements, and licensing requirements.
- In order to enter the U.S. to participate in medical training programs, you must first obtain ECFMG certification.
On January 17th, 2017, the Federal Register will implement a final rule that broadens the evidence that you can use to be eligible for an H-1B that has been temporarily approved. Under the rule, you will be able to submit a wider variety of evidence to support the technical circumstances that prevent you from obtaining your license before your admittance to the country.
An example of this situation would be if you were planning on practicing in a state that required an approved visa before issuing a license. A letter from the state licensing board would be classified as evidence that could be submitted.
What Documents Are Required?
Having the right documents completed and sent the right places can be the difference between success and failure when applying for an H-1B visa for doctors. To apply, you will need:
- A copy of your diploma from medical school along with your transcript and list of courses.
- A certificate from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG)
- The passing results from either your USMLE or FLEX examinations.
- A copy of your valid passport
- A copy of, or other evidence of your state medical license or permit.
One of the disadvantages of the H-1B visa for doctors is that you will most likely be subject to the annual lottery. In past years, the USCIS has placed a cap on H-1B petition approvals, limiting the amount of H-1B visas issued to 85,000 each year.
Initially, 20,000 petitions will be randomly selected from applicants that hold a master’s degree or higher according to the advanced degree exemption. Any applicants that are not chosen in this initial selection will then be entered in the second lottery of 65,000. Last year, the USCIS received over 236,000 petitions, which means that the H-1B visa is a highly competitive route.
However, there are a few exceptions that will qualify you as exempt from this lottery:
- If you have already been counted against the lottery and wish to transfer your status to a different employer.
- If you are working for a non-profit organization, institute of higher education, or state, local, or federal governmental research organization.
Duration of Stay
After fulfilling the requirements and application process for the H-1B visa for doctors, your H-1B will either be approved or denied. If it is approved, your H-1B visa is generally granted initially for up to three years and can be extended to a maximum of six years.
It is important to note that you can travel freely in and out of the U.S. with your H-1B visa being stamped into your passport. Your duration of stay amounts to the actual time you’ve spent in the U.S. If you travel abroad, you will be able to recapture any time spent outside the U.S. to ensure that you receive your full six-year stay.
If you wish to stay longer than six years, you can apply to become a lawful permanent resident while holding an H-1B visa. The H-1B is a nonimmigrant and dual intent visa which gives you the opportunity to obtain a U.S. green card and to remain in the U.S. longer to continue to pursue your medical career.
Dependents of Doctors and Physicians
Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 can enter the U.S. with the H-1B visa holder under the H4 dependent visa category. An H4 Visa holder is allowed to live in the U.S. as long as the H-1B visa holder continues to follow all guidelines and regulations along with H-1B visa requirements to remain in legal status.
Generally, H4 visa holders are not allowed to gain employment in the U.S. However, according to USCIS, there are certain cases in which H4 dependent spouses can apply for employment authorization. Dependents may also attend school and perform daily tasks such as driving after obtaining a state driving license.
How We Can Help
The lawyers at SGM Law Group will take the time to explain what applying for an H-1B visa entails for physicians and other medical professionals. We have extensive experience with assisting foreign doctors get H-1B visa approvals using an optimized application process and necessary supporting documents. This way we can help you avoid costly delays in the future.
H-1B visa requirements will not be the same for all applicants. Contact us today to learn about your options as well as receive credible information about your particular case.
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