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Physicians - Visas for FMGs Abroad

Physicians - US Immigrant and Non-Immigrant Visas for FMGs/IMGs Abroad

Foreign trained physicians (FMGs/IMGs) abroad seeking a US visa to practice medicine face unique concerns that other professionals do not.  The law specifically prohibits unqualified foreign medical graduates (FMGs) from entering the US to practice medicine and seeks to ensure that only the highly qualified physicians that have a good command of the English language may enter and practice. 

To qualify for a US visa, a foreign medical graduate must engage in months and sometimes years of study and preparation to complete the required exams.  After passing the exams, in almost all cases, the FMG must also find a willing employer, residency or fellowship program. The following options are considered for those physicians outside the United States. 

J-1 Visas For FMGs/IMGs
J-1 Exchange Visitor visas, sponsored by the ECFMG, permit foreign trained physicians to enter the United States for a residency or fellowship program.  This is by far the easiest visa to obtain for residency training in the US.  Candidates must first pass the USMLE Steps I & II, the English Exam (TOEFL or equivalent) and also find a hospital that will accept them into a residency program.  Residency program directors typically select only those who score very highly on the tests.  Physicians who are issued J-1 visas must complete their US training within seven years and return to their native country for at least two years thereafter.  Those physicians intending to remain in the US after training should  carefully consider other visa options because obtaining a waiver of the 2 year foreign residence requirement can be difficult.

H-1B Visas For FMGs/IMGs
Foreign trained physicians may also qualify for the H-1B visa.  To qualify however, such physicians must have a doctor of medicine degree, pass the USMLE steps I, II & III as well as the English exam, have an unrestricted license to practice medicine in another country and obtain a license or other authorization to practice medicine for the state in the US where they intend to practice. While the H-1B visa is a good option for FMGs, a good number of residency programs do not offer sponsorship for this visa. Another obstacle is that candidates may have to enter the US first in order to sit for the USMLE Step III at all. These make it difficult for physicians who live abroad to obtain the necessary requirements for the H-1B visa.

E-3 Visa For Australian FMGs/IMGs
Australian citizens who otherwise qualify under the H-1B visa standards may seek the E-3 Visa status to avoid the H-1B visa caps.

TN Visas for Canadians and Mexicans FMGs/IMGs
The TN visa option exists for those physicians who are citizens of Canada or Mexico under NAFTA.  The difficulty with this option is that holders of this status may engage in teaching, research and such. They can only engage in patient care duties that are incidental to the teaching and research activities that are permitted.  

Returning H-1B Visa Holders
Those who held H-1B visas in the past and left the US for one or more years may re-enter with the H-1B visa and avoid the cap so long as they have not exhausted the 6-year limitation on H-1B stays.

FMGS/IMGs Trained in the US
Physicians who completed their residency training program in the US but had to return to their country to complete the 2-year foreign residency requirement or for other reasons may apply to re-enter using various visa options, including the H-1B, TN, EB-2, PERM Labor Certification,  O-1, EB-3 green card petitions as well as the I-140/national interest waiver green card application.

J-1 Visa Waivers for FMGs
Those physicians that are subject to the J-1 visa 2-year foreign residence requirement may apply for a waiver of that requirement by seeking the support of an interested US governmental agency (IGA).  Such candidates may also apply for a J-1 visa waiver through the Conrad 30 program which permits each state to sponsor up to 30 physicians per year. Applicants must commit to work in a medically underserved (HPSA, MUA or MUP) area for at least 3 years to qualify.  Self-sponsorship is available for physicians seeking to start a practice in a medically underserved area. Note that the waiver is not a visa and does not permit one to remain or work in the US.  The physician must still apply for a visa or green card in order to remain and work in the US after obtaining the J-1 visa waiver.

O-1 Visa for Physicians with Extraordinary Ability
This option is good for FMGs that are able to meet the heightened requirements for this classification.  Another advantage exists for those physicians previously on the J-1 status who did not obtain a J-1 Visa Waiver and did not return to their native country to complete the 2-year foreign residency requirement.  The O-1 Visa may be granted in spite of the unfulfilled J-1 Visa foreign residency requirement.  Additionally, those who wish to work in research, teaching or employed as professors may use this visa also. An added advantage is that qualifying applicants are able to avoid the H1B visa caps. To qualify, applicants must show that they possess extraordinary ability which has been emonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.

Please visit our Physician Information Center   for general information about how foreign medical graduates (FMGs) may obtain temporary and permanent visas to stay and work in the United States.  Our Useful Web Links for physicians also provides important resources for visa applications. To Contact one of our experienced immigration attorneys, use our Contact Us  form or phone at 312 795-9110.