Visa Options for Physicians Abroad

Foreign trained doctors (FMGs) abroad seeking a US visa to practice medicine face unique concerns that other professionals do not. Here are the main visa options for foreign medical graduates.

J-1 Visas For FMGs
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. 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
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.

E-3 Visa For Australian FMGs
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
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.

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