Health Care Immigration Opportunity and Outlook

As a foreign physician, immigration can be a blow to an already established medical career. Coming to the U.S. means starting over and abiding by U.S. medical examination rules and regulations. This journey can be daunting for some and this is why many professionals and highly skilled doctors choose to drive for companies like Uber or take lower-paying jobs they’re overqualified for. It’s easier and quicker. 


Who can blame them? The Requirements to practice medicine in the U.S. as an immigrant are very demanding: passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Exams, getting certified by the Educational Commission for Foreign-Trained Medical Graduates, enrolling in a residency program, and passing a third licensing test. 


On the bright side, there’s no better time for immigrants to become licensed U.S. physicians. There’s a huge shortage in healthcare for doctors and physicians. At a time when health care is critical and the pandemic is still prevalent, patient needs are at an all-time high. Here’s where you can come in to fill in these deficiencies. 


Certain immigrant visas can allow you to work as a licensed doctor in the U.S. Below are a few options for your consideration: 


PERM Labor Certification: The most known path

While it is the most known process to gain permanent resident status, it can be time-consuming, taking up to two years to complete. PERM labor certification will also heavily involve your employer’s time and patience. Before employers can hire a foreign professional, they’ll need to reach out to prospects through traditional advertising means like job posting on boards, websites, and newspapers before applying for a PERM labor certification. This initiatory process is referred to as testing the labor market. In the health care field, however, due to shortages, this PERM labor certification can be bypassed. Employers can file directly an immigrant visa petition. 


Physician National Interest Waiver (PNIW): Full Time for 5 Years

Through this route, physicians must agree to work full time for 5 years, either as primary care specialists or providers. The advantage is that the PERM labor certification and the labor market testing requirement are waived. Additionally, the physician must work in an under-served or shortage area. A statement from a state department of health or federal agency that affirms that the candidate’s work is in the public interest is necessary.


There are also non-immigrant visas that can get you to work in a hospital and fill shortages. Some of these include the H-1B, O-1, and J-1 Visas. 


The H-1B visa is for foreign applicants with a bachelor’s or master’s degree who desire to work in a specialty occupation. Applying for the H-1B visa is an option for foreign applicants who passed the U.S. medical licensing exam, obtained ECFMG certification, and have an active medical license in the state they will be practicing in. Every year in March or April, 85,000 applicants are randomly selected through the H-1B lottery system.  


Foreign physicians can also apply for the O-1 visa if they have extraordinary abilities in their field based on their achievements and efforts. The recognition can be proved via awards, press coverage, publications, letters, professional society memberships, and other means. 


Managed by the U.S. department of state, J-1 visas are cultural exchange visas. This one is more affordable for health care facilities but has the drawback of the physician needing to return to their home country for 2 years at the end of the program.