Millions of Americans live in medically underserved areas. Many, if not all states face physician shortages. Recruiting and retaining physicians is important in filling that need. Currently, one quarter of all physicians practicing in the US are International Medical Graduate (IMGs), thanks in part to the H-1B and J-1 Visa programs. An H-1B visa is a temporary work visa for professionals in specialty occupations, not just physicians. If you are reading this post, you likely will be interested in getting answers to questions like: What’s necessary to gain H-1B visa sponsorship? When is the best time to apply? What if you want to work for another employer while on an H-1B visa? How difficult is it to obtain an H-1B visa? What about your loved ones – can they live in the US? These questions are addressed in this post. In a future post, I’ll discuss what a J-1 visa is and how IMGs can use the J-1 visa waivers to their advantage.
What is necessary to gain an H-1B visa sponsorship? Please visit the official website of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for complete H-1B Visa eligibility requirements. Here is the link: https://www.uscis.gov/eir/visa-guide/h-1b-specialty-occupation/understanding-h-1b-requirements. You can apply for an H-1B visa if you are an IMG performing research, teaching, or practicing medicine. You can also obtain an H-1B visa if you match in to a residency program. If patient care will be performed, ECFMG certification is required. See the post Residency Training Challenges for International Medical Graduates. For more up-to-date guidelines on certification, please visit the ECFMG official website http://www.ecfmg.org/2017ib/exam-requirements.html.
How soon can you file? You can file up to 6 months before your anticipated start date. The H-1B FY2018 Quota will open on April 1, 2017 with employment beginning on October 1, 2017.
What are the responsibilities of your sponsor? The sponsor (same as petitioner) offers the prevailing wage, files the petition, and writes the letter of support per USCIS guidelines. Your sponsor will ask for a copy of your medical degree, transcripts, academic achievements, and proof of employment, to name a few. Respond to all the requests from your sponsor. Immigration laws change, especially in this post 911 era. Make sure you have all the required documents. Contact your embassy and check the USCIS website for a complete list of required documents. Simple things like having the wrong photos, having a passport that will expire in a few months, and not having your bank records can delay the process. Find out in advance what fees you are required to pay. Be honest with your sponsor. If you cannot pay the fee for filing the petition, let your sponsor know. They may have programs that can assist those who are experiencing hardships.
What if you want to work for another employer? Once in the US, you may choose to work for another employer if an H-1B transfer petition is officially filed.
How difficult is it to obtain an H-1B visa? An H-1B visa is the most sought after US work visa, but there are only a few slots available. 65,000 H-1B visas are available each year for all foreign nationals in specialty occupations, including scientists, dentists, architects, lawyers, and IT and computer professionals, to name a few. There are an additional 20,000 visas for applicants who obtained a US Master’s Degree or higher. This underscores the need to file early.
What about your loved ones? IMGs on H-1B visas can apply for and obtain a US Green Card. Your spouse and unmarried children under age 21 will be allowed to stay with you in the US. You can obtain health insurance for the whole family through your employer, which is usually the cheaper option. There is more. H1-B visa holders can qualify as home buyers. To help recruit and retain talent, some employers have programs for first time home buyers. Be sure to use these resources, as you will save thousands of dollars. These are just some benefits you will enjoy as an H-1B IMG.
How long can you and your family stay in the US? There is a 6-year maximum in H-1B status, unless waived. If you wish to remain in the US for more than six years, you can apply for permanent residency in the US. If you fail to gain permanent residency prior to the expiration of your H-1B visa, you must reside outside the US for at least one year before reapplying for another H-1B. One final thought: If you decide to go with an immigration lawyer, choose a well-informed, experienced and compassionate lawyer. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss all that is related to H-1B visas. I cannot overstate the importance of reading the most current information on the USCIS website.
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Now that your H1-B visa questions have been answered take a few minutes to browse available physician jobs at: https://www.hospitalrecruiting.com/jobs/Physician-Jobs/.