Immigration Options for those in the Medical Field

The U.S. has come to rely upon physicians from other countries coming here to practice medicine. In fact, the U.S. is in the midst of a shortage of physicians so it is now more important than ever that these international practitioners of medicine have immigration options available to them so they can come to fill vital healthcare roles in local communities across the nation.

Options for Those in the Medical Field

One particular group of doctors are referred to as “International Medical Graduates,” or IMGs, IMGs are physicians that have studied medicine and graduated from medical schools, both recognized and accredited, abroad. IMGs are required to undergo a unique credentialing process through the Educational Commission on Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). The IMGs must go through this credentialing process in order to become licensed physicians or begin residencies. Even IMGs that already hold a green card, permanent residence status, through something like family member sponsorship, must be credentialed by ECFMG in order to practice medicine in the U.S.

Without already holding status via some other means, there are several immigration options for IMGs looking to come to practice medicine in the U.S. The most commonly selected visa category utilized by IMGs is the J-1 Exchange Visitor visa classification. This visa category is specifically for IMGs who have been accepted into residency programs sponsored by the ECFMG. There are also other strict requirements associated with being approved for a J-1 Exchange Visitor visa. For instance, physicians applying for a J-1 visa are required to obtain a specific ECFMG certification which requires satisfactory scores on the USMLE Step 1, Step 2, Clinical Skills, as well as Step 2 Clinical Knowledge.

There are certain limitations that come with a J-1 visa to be aware of. In particular, J-1 status is only granted to IMGs for the duration of a residency program. The maximum time allowed for this is 7 years. Furthermore, J-1 holders who received graduate medical education are required to return to their country of origin for at least two years prior to being granted eligibility for H status or, in the alternative, permanent residence status.

An alternative to a J-1 visa for an IMG may be an H-1B professional worker visa. An H-1B visa may be granted to a physician with an ECFMG certification for successfully completing all USMLE examination steps (there are three in total). In addition to the successful completion of all three USMLE examination steps, successful IMG applicants for an H-1B visa must have a valid training license in the state where they intend to receive training. On top of this, the applicant has to be sponsored by the hospitals of their residences. If granted H-1B status, the applicant can only maintain the status for 6 years at most.

Some IMGs may qualify for an O-1 extraordinary ability visa. O-1 visas are specifically reserved for IMGs who have managed to achieve a significant amount of recognition and prominence in their field. The recognition could span globally or be limited to within their countries of origin. The recognition means they have built a reputation for excellence in medicine.

Immigration Law Attorneys

If you should have any questions or need more information about the ways in which the U.S. and Canadian Immigration and Nationality Laws may impact you, your family, your friends or your colleagues, please contact us at the NPZ Law Group – VISASERVE – U.S. and Canadian Immigration and Nationality Lawyers by e-mailing us at or by calling us at 201-670-0006 (x104). You can also visit our Law Firm’s website at