The H-1B for Physical Therapists
The H-1B visa program allows U.S. employers to employ foreign nationals in specialty occupations. The Immigration and Nationality Act defines specialty occupation as ‘an occupation that requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, and attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the U.S.’ Most professional positions, including that of physical therapist, qualify as a specialty occupation.
The Physical Therapist H-1B Visa - Eligibility Conditions
In order to be eligible for an H-1B as a physical therapist, the following important conditions, among others, must be satisfied:
- A bachelor’s degree or higher in physical therapy or its equivalent must normally be the minimum requirement for entry into the therapist position that is being offered to the foreign national physical therapist.
- The foreign national physical therapist must possess at least a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy or its equivalent. Foreign national physical therapists who do not have a U.S. bachelor’s degree must obtain an evaluation from a credentialing agency confirming that their degree is substantially equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy obtained from a U.S. educational institution.
- The foreign national physical therapist must take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and be licensed as a physical therapist in the state where he or she intends to be employed. Foreign national physical therapists, who are outside the U.S., may also seek a visitor visa in order to come to the U.S. and appear for the exam.
- The foreign national physical therapistmust obtain a VisaScreen Certificate issued by Commission of Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) or the Federal Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy (FCCPT) after completing a screening program if his or her degree in physical degree was obtained from abroad.
Note: Before submitting the application to USCIS, the employer must submit and receive a certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the Department of Labor.
Timing is a critically important factor to keep in mind when evaluating the option of the H-1B visa. There is an annual 65,000 numerical cap or quota for H-1B’s commonly known as the “H-1B cap.” When submitting the H-1B petition, the employer must be sure that the cap is still open, i.e., the numerical limit has not been reached for the present fiscal year.
It’s important to note that USCIS’ fiscal year goes from October 1 to September 30. Since an H-1B petition can be submitted no earlier than six months before the start date of employment, the earliest a petition can be filed is April 1 of the previous fiscal year (e.g. in order for a physical therapist to obtain a H-1B visa and start working on October 1, 2013, an H-1B petition can be filed no earlier than April 1, 2013.)
H-1B Cap Exemption
The regulations, however, provide an exemption to the numerical cap. Foreign nationals who are employed or have received an offer of employment from an institution of higher education or a related or affiliated nonprofit entity or at a nonprofit or governmental research organization or a governmental research organization may be exempt from the H-1B cap.
It is therefore strongly advised that the employer institution and foreign national physical therapist evaluate whether or not their H-1B petition will be subject to the H-1B cap or be cap-exempt so that proper steps are taken in a timely fashion. Moreover, if the H-1B petition is subject to the cap, the start date may become an issue. For example, if a physical therapist is needed to begin on September 1 but the H-1B will not begin until October 1, the institution and therapist may need to find a way to “bridge the gap” or find a suitable alterative.
Period of Admission on the H-1B Visa
All foreign nationals who seek to enter on the H-1B visa, including physical therapists, may be admitted for an initial period of up to three years and the period of admission may be extended for an additional three years, for a maximum of six years. Periods of stay may be limited for several reasons including limited duration contracts and limited licensure. Generally, the H-1B visa is limited to a total of six years unless certain conditions are met. Furthermore, spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age may also seek admission in the H-4 nonimmigrant classification. They cannot work while in the U.S. but are permitted to study.
Foreign national physical therapists have a range of visa options that enable them to come and work in the U.S., either as a permanent resident or as a temporary working professional. The H-1B visa allows the foreign national physical therapists to work immediately in the U.S. temporarily. The H-1B, however, has a numerical cap of 65,000 per year. Further, in order to qualify for a Physical Therapist H-1B visa, the foreign national physical therapist must take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), be licensed as a physical therapist in the state of intended employment and obtain the VisaScreen Certificate.
While the Physical Therapist H-1B visa is the most popular visa option for foreign national physical therapists to come and work in the U.S. temporarily, it is by no means the only visa option available. Foreign national physical therapists who would like to live and work permanently in the U.S. have the option of seeking a ‘Schedule A’ Green Card for Physical Therapists. Additionally, qualified Citizens of Canada and Mexico may also seek a Physical Therapist TN visato work in the US temporarily.
Contact VisaPro if you have any questions regarding immigration for physical therapists, any Physical Therapist Visa, or any type of business or work visas. Our experienced attorneys will be happ
y to assist you.