A J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa for research scholars, professors and other professionals participating in cultural exchange programs. For physicians, J-1 visas are usually sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) to allow foreign-born physicians to complete their medical training in the United States.
In order to pursue a J-1 visa for graduate medical training, a physician must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (MSLE). The physician must also have a ECFMG certificate with valid examination dates, an official offer from an approved graduate medical education or training program, as well as a Statement of Need from the Ministry of Health of their most recent country of permanent residence. To learn more, consult the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.
The terms of a J-1 visa require that J-1 physicians return to their home country for a minimum of two years after completing their training before they can apply for another visa in the United States. This is known as the two-year home country physical presence requirement. However, a physician can bypass this requirement by obtaining a J-1 waiver.
A J-1 waiver releases physicians from the J-1 visa two-year home residency requirement, provided that they work at a qualifying facility in an underserved community for at least three years.
A physician of any speciality who has secured a contract at a qualifying, underserved practice may apply for a J-1 waiver through their state’s Conrad-30 program. However, due to high need, a certain number of waiver slots are typically reserved for primary care physicians.
While less common, any physician with a contract at qualifying underserved practice may also apply for hardship or persecution-based waiver if they or their family could face undue risk or hardship as a result of the two-year home residency requirement.
Primary care specialists who plan to work at a federally qualified health center (FQHC) or a rural health center (RHC) have an additional opportunity to apply for a waiver through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Generally, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) only allow J-1 holders to work for their program sponsors. This means that a J-1 physician may work as a resident or fellow as part of their training, but they cannot work as an attending physician on a J-1 visa.
J-1 physicians are typically allowed to stay in the United States for up to seven years in order to complete their graduate medical education. If a physician needs to remain in the U.S. longer in order to sit for specialty board exams, it is possible to obtain an extension of J-1 status.
Not without a new visa. A J-1 visa is intended for training physicians, not working physicians. In most cases, a J-1 visa expires one month after the end of a physician’s training. At this point, if a physician has not already filed for a H1-B or alternative visa, they must return to their home country.
To receive a waiver, you must first sign an employment contract with a qualifying employer working with a medically underserved community. Then, your employer must submit evidence that the position meets the criteria for a J-1 waiver job. Finally the physician must apply for a J-1 waiver through an appropriate state or federal agency based on your specific speciality and circumstances. Depending on your state or speciality, there may be a highly limited number of J-1 waivers available.
The exact timeline varies, particularly depending on what organization you apply for your waiver through. Before you can apply for a J-1 waiver, your prospective employer must submit paperwork verifying that the position meets the qualifications for a J-1 waiver job, a process that can take about two weeks. Once you submit your J-1 waiver, it will need to be approved by both the state government and the federal government, which usually takes 6-8 weeks in total.
Once your J-1 waiver is approved, you (or your immigration lawyer) can file for an H1-B visa through USCIS. It typically takes about two weeks for an H1-B visa to process. Before your H1-B visa can be approved, you must have your practicing state license for the state in which you plan to work.
No. A J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa, and therefore J-1 visa holders are not eligible to apply for a green card. After either obtaining a J-1 waiver or fulfilling the 2-year home residency requirement, a former J-1 visa holder can apply for an H1-B employment visa. Once an H1-B visa is approved, a sponsoring employer may file for a green card on the physician’s behalf.
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