Occupational therapists form an important segment of health care professionals in the United States. Working in hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, clinics, nursing homes, and in various other community settings, occupational therapists play a significant role in aiding people of all ages, helping them overcome the effects of disability caused by physical or psychological illness, ageing or accidents, improving their ability to perform daily tasks at home and at work.
Occupational therapists from outside the U.S. who wish to work in the U.S. have a variety of U.S. visa options to choose from. Each U.S. occupational therapist visa option is designed to serve a particular need, and each type of U.S. visa for occupational therapist comes with its own set of requirements, advantages and limitations, often making it a difficult exercise for foreign national occupational therapists and their employers to identify the one that would be most suitable. In this article, we present a snapshot of the most popular U.S. occupational therapist visa options that are available to foreign national occupational therapists who want to come and work in the U.S. either as a permanent resident or as a temporary working professional.
1. The H1B Visa For Occupational Therapists
The H1B 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.” The position of occupational therapist is accepted by USCIS to be a specialty occupation.
2. The H1B Visa For Occupational Therapists – Eligibility Conditions
In order to seek an H1B visa for occupational therapist, the following important conditions, among others, must be satisfied:
1.The foreign national occupational therapist must possess the first professional degree in occupational therapy or its equivalent. In the U.S., occupational therapy graduates must earn at least a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy in order to be eligible for licensure and/or to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) initial certification exam. Foreign national occupational therapists, who do not possess a U.S. occupational therapist degree, must obtain an evaluation from a credentialing agency certifying that the foreign degree they have received is substantially equivalent to an American university degree in occupational therapy.
Note: All current graduating occupational therapists in the U.S. must obtain the Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree or a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy in order to be eligible for licensing or to take the credentialing examination. Foreign nationals are required to have both a Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy in order to be eligible to the NBCOT certification exam. Those with Bachelor’s degrees in Occupational Therapy from the U.S. or abroad may still be eligible for the H-1B if they have already been previously certified and are are eligible for licensing in the state where the work will be performed.
2.The foreign national occupational therapist must take and pass the NBCOT certification exam. This is a requirement for all U.S. and foreign educated occupational therapists. Foreign national occupational 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.
3.The foreign national must be licensed** in the state where he or she intends to be employed or be eligible for licensure.
It’s important to remember that licensure requirements vary from state to state. While all applicants for a license must meet certain basic requirements including passing the NBCOT exam and minimum education requirements, individual states may have additional licensure requirements. Foreign national occupational therapists who wish to work in the U.S. must, therefore, check with the respective state board for the most relevant and up-to-date information about licensure requirements.
4.All foreign national occupational therapists must obtain a Health Care Worker Certification issued by the Commission of Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS)—VisaScreen— or the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT)— Visa Credential Verification Certificate (VCVC) in order to work in the U.S. The certification is required even if the foreign national is US educated.
5.The employer must submit and receive a certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the Department of Labor.
**USCIS will waive the requirement for state licensure if the petitioner can show that the state in question will not issue the license until the foreign national beneficiary is in the US in H-1B status and/or has a social security number. USCIS will generally limit the petition validity to a period of 1 year.
3. How To Apply
In order to obtain the H-1B visa or status, the employer must:
- File a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the U.S. Department of Labor
- File USCIS Form I-129, Petition for nonimmigrant worker with H supplement and supporting documentation and the approved LCA with the USCIS
4. The H1B Quota And Timing
Timing is a critically important factor to keep in mind when evaluating the H-1B for Occupational Therapists. The H1B classification is subject to an annual numerical quota of 65,000, commonly known as the “H1B cap”. When submitting an H1B 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 of each year. As there have been more applications received by USCIS than there are available H-1B’s in recent years, USCIS must run an “H-1B Lottery” each year. In order to be eligible for the Lottery, H-1B petitions must be received during the first week of April. Employers and prospective employees must strategize, prepare and timely file the H-1B in order to have a chance at “winning the lottery.” [For more information, check out VisaPro’s Free EBook: A Practical Guide to filing H-1B Cap 2018 Petitions.]
Employers and foreign national Occupational Therapists must consider issues related to the start date of the H-1B when evaluating options- if an Occupational Therapist needs to begin on August 1 but the H1B will not begin until October 1, the employer and Occupational Therapist may need to find a way to “bridge the gap” or find a suitable alternative.
5. Exemptions To The H-1B Cap
The regulations provide several exemptions to the numerical cap that some foreign Occupational Therapists may be eligible for:
- Foreign nationals who are employed or have received an offer of employment at an institution of higher education, a related or affiliated nonprofit entity, or a nonprofit or governmental research organization are exempt from the H-1B numerical cap;
- An additional 20,000 H-1B’s are set aside for US Advanced Degree holders- commonly referred to as the “Master’s Cap”. Foreign national Occupational Therapists who obtain their Master’s or Doctoral degree in Occupational Therapy from a US institution would be eligible for the Master’s Cap.
6. Period of Admission on The H1B Occupational Therapist Visa
All foreign nationals who seek to enter on the H1B visa, including Occupational 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 H1B visa is limited to a total of six years unless certain conditions are met.
Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age may also seek admission in the H-4 dependent nonimmigrant classification.
8. The E-3 Visa For Occupational Therapists
The E-3 nonimmigrant classification permits qualified Australian citizens to seek temporary entry into the U.S. to perform services in a specialty occupation. As explained above, occupational therapy qualifies as a specialty occupation.
There is an annual numerical quota or cap of 10,500 for new E-3 visas to be issued every fiscal year, however, unlike the H-1B, the quota has never been used up within one fiscal year. The eligibility requirements for an E-3 visa for occupational therapists are generally very similar to those for an H-1B visa discussed above, including the requirements related to the NBCOT certification exam, licensing and screening program.
9. How To Apply
E-3 visa applicants are not required to submit a petition to USCIS for the E-3 classification but may apply directly to the U.S. Consulate or Embassy if applying from abroad. The applicant must have a certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the employer.
Those in the U.S. in valid nonimmigrant status may have the Employer/Petitioner file an I-129 petition with USCIS in order to change status to E-3
10. Period of Admission
E-3 Occupational Therapists may be admitted for an initial period of up to two years and the period of admission may be extended for up to two years per extension, with generally no maximum limit on the number of extensions.
The Spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age of an E-3 occupational therapist visa holder may also seek admission in the E-3 dependent (E-3D) nonimmigrant classification. The dependents do not have to be Australian to be eligible for E-3 dependent status.
A major distinction between H-4 status and E-3D status is that an E-3 dependent spouse can work by obtaining employment authorization by filing an I-765. E-3 dependent children are not, however, eligible for work authorization.
DID YOU KNOW?
All foreign national occupational therapists must obtain a Health Care Worker Certification issued by the Commission of Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS)—VisaScreen– or the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT)— Visa Credential Verification Certificate (VCVC) in order to work in the U.S. The certification is required even if the foreign national is US educated.
12. The TN Visa For Occupational Therapists
The TN Classification allows Canadian and Mexican Nationals to seek temporary entry into the U.S. to engage in certain business activities at a professional level. The TN Classification is only available if the offered profession or occupation is on the NAFTA List. “Occupational Therapist” is on the TN NAFTA List.
13. The TN Visa For Occupational Therapists- Eligibility Conditions
In order to be eligible for the TN for Occupational Therapists, the foreign national must have at least one of the following:
- Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or
- state/provincial license
The candidate must also have a prearranged full-time or part-time job with a U.S. employer in a position that requires someone in that professional capacity.
DID YOU KNOW?
Foreign national Occupational Therapists who wish to enter on the Occupational Therapist TN visa classification need not possess licensure to obtain the TN but must possess a license in order to begin employment and practicing. Licensure requirements vary from state to state. While all applicants for an OT license must meet certain basic requirements including passing the NBCOT and minimum education requirements, individual states may have additional licensure requirements. Foreign national Occupational Therapists who wish to work in the U.S. must, therefore, check with the respective state dental board for the most relevant and up-to-date information about licensure requirements.
14. How To Apply
Obtaining TN status does not require prior approval from US Citizenship & Immigration Services.
As Canadian nationals are exempt from having to obtain nonimmigrant visas (except E-1/E-2), Canadian Occupational Therapists may obtain TN status by applying directly with US Customs & Border Protection at a Class A Port of Entry or Pre-Clearance Inspection Station.
Mexican citizens can obtain the TN visa directly at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy.
Those in the U.S. in valid nonimmigrant status may have the Employer/Petitioner file an I-129 petition with USCIS in order to change status to TN.
15. Period of Admission
Canadian and Mexican national Occupational Therapists who enter the U.S. with the Occupational Therapist TN visa classification may be admitted for a period of up to three years initially.
Note: Currently, because of visa reciprocity, TN visas for nationals of Mexico are limited to one year.
The spouse and children under the age of 21 may be eligible for TD nonimmigrant status. TD holders cannot work while in the U.S., but are permitted to study.
Applicants for TD status do not have to be Canadian or Mexican citizens. However, spouses and/or children of Canadian TN applicants who are not Canadian must apply for the TD visa at a US Consulate or Embassy.
For more information on the TN Visa, check out: TN Visa- Canada or TN Visa-Mexico.
As seen here, foreign national occupational therapists who wish to come and work in the U.S. have a range of U.S. visa options to choose from. Regardless of the visa option chosen, the eligibility of a foreign national occupational therapist to work in the U.S. primarily depends on his or her ability to meet the credentialing requirements of the NBCOT and satisfy individual state licensure requirements, which, of course, vary from state to state. It is therefore necessary that foreign national occupational therapists check with the NBCOT and state regulatory board where they wish to practice and live regarding the licensure requirements in the respective state before embarking on any immigration related process.
Among the various U.S visa options available to foreign national occupational therapists, each one has its own advantages and limitations. The E-3 visa and TN visa nonimmigrant classifications, for example, allow the foreign national occupational therapist to work immediately in the U.S. as there is no requirement for a petition to be filed with USCIS or quota limitations, generally. Also, the H1B has a numerical cap of 65,000 per year and under an H1B, foreign nationals may be allowed to stay only for a maximum of 6 years, unless certain other conditions related to filing of an Immigrant Visa petition are satisfied. On the other hand, the TN and E-3 visa classifications are restricted to citizens of Canada/Mexico and Australia. Most importantly, for many nonimmigrants, the TN and E-3 visa classifications are not considered to be “dual intent”, and unlike the H1B visa classification, they do not support ‘dual intent’.
There may be other visa options available including H-1B1, E-2 or the Green Card. Hence, it is advisable that a foreign national Occupational Therapist and the employer carefully evaluate all the options against their individual situation and speak with an experienced immigration professional before deciding on which visa option to exercise.
Contact VisaPro if you have any questions regarding immigration for dentists, or any type of business or work visas. Our experienced attorneys will be happy to assist you.
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