Green Cards (Common)
National Interest Waivers
Professors & Researchers
Executives & Managers
PERM Labor Certification
Investors (EB-5 visas)
Family (Spouse, etc.)
Work Visas (Common)
O-1 Extraordinary Ability
TN Canadians & Mexicans
J-1 Visa Holders
Nurses & Physical Therapists
Answers for Doctors
Foreign physicians have several options for coming temporarily or permanently to the United States. Physicians may come to the U.S. for a variety of purposes: to participate in medical conferences, perform research, engage in a medical training program, teach courses or to practice medicine. Peng & Weber has summarized many of the immigration options available to foreign physicians, and answered many of the questions asked by physicians seeking entry into the United States.
Doctors who are seeking employment in the United States should explore all of their immigration options and understand the consequences of their choices. Planning could begin even before the completion of medical school, to ensure completion of all of the testing and license requirements. A qualified immigration attorney can advise foreign physicians to help navigate the complicated process of obtaining employment in the United States.
There are several options available to foreign physicians seeking to come temporarily to work in the United States. Some of the more common options include the following:
J-1 Exchange Visitor
Many foreign doctors come to the United States in the J-1 exchange visitor category to train in U.S. residency programs. J-1 physicians are generally certified and sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), which assesses the readiness of international medical graduates to enter residency or fellowship programs in the United States. J-1 physicians who come for medical education or training are automatically subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement. J-1 physicians must either return to their home country or country of last foreign residence for an aggregate of two years or have the requirement waived before they may change their status to H-1B or L-1, or apply for permanent residency. Doctors coming to the United States on J-1 visas for the purpose of observation, consultation, teaching, or research are not generally subject to the home residency requirements. More information is available on our J-1 Visas for Physicians page.
H-1B Specialty Occupation
The H-1B visa is available for individuals in a “specialty occupation,” which is defined as an occupation requiring at least a bachelor's degree in a specialized field of knowledge. Physicians clearly qualify as a specialty occupation, and may be eligible for H-1B visa status. However, U.S. immigration law imposes specific criteria and license requirements for physicians seeking H-1B visas. You can read more information about these specific requirements on the H-1B Visas for Physicians page.
O-1 Extraordinary Ability
The O-1 visa category for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability has been a popular option for doctors seeking employment in the United States. Eligibility for O-1 visa status is limited to people with “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.” The USCIS has increased their scrutiny of O-1 visa applications in recent years, but it still remains a viable choice for those physicians who meet the criteria. For more information about this visa category, please see our O-1 Visas for Extraordinary Ability page.
TN Treaty NAFTA for Canadians and Mexicans
Physicians from Canada or Mexico may be eligible to enter the United States in TN visa status to teach or perform medical research. The TN visa is not available for physicians seeking to practice medicine and provide patient care in the United States. To qualify for the TN, the physician must prove Canadian or Mexican citizenship, show that he or she has earned an M.D. or Doctor en Medicina degree, and provide proof of a state or provincial medical license. For more information about this visa category, please see our TN Visa page.
Foreign physicians may also qualify for permanent resident status in the United States. The most common approach is for an employer to file a labor certification application, demonstrating to the Department of Labor that there are no U.S. physicians ready, able and qualified to perform the job. Physicians may waive the labor certification requirement if their employment would be in the “national interest.” Generally, physicians may petition for a national interest waiver if they intend to work at least five years in a medically underserved areas (“MUA”) or at a Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) facility. Finally, those physicians who have risen to the very top of their field may be eligible to file EB-1A petitions as Aliens of Extraordinary Ability. You can read more information about applying for permanent residency as a physician.