J Status for IMGs: The Two-Year Residency Requirement
Immigration Attorney Carl Shusterman (Former INS Attorney 1976-82) discusses the laws which subject IMGs (International Medical Graduates) and Canadian physicians who complete their medical residencies and fellowships in the US as J exchange visitors to the two-year foreign residency requirement.
Our law firm has assisted over 3,000 physicians in obtaining J waivers and green cards.
IMGs and Canadian physicians who wish to practice medicine in the US must first complete a medical residency program in the US. To do so, most must obtain a temporary working visa.
While some residency programs sponsor physicians for H-1B visas, most do not. The majority of the IMGs obtain J exchange visitor visas sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). In order to qualify for a J visa, the physician must pass Parts I and II of the US Medical License Examination (USMLE). In order to qualify for an H-1B visa, the physician must pass all 3 parts of the USMLE.
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J visas for physicians come with the following proviso: The physician, unless he obtains a waiver, must return to his country for 2 years after completing his medical residency/fellowship program.
This 2-year requirement prevents physicians from getting H-1B work visas or permanent residence in the US unless they first obtain J waivers. However, it does not prevent physicians from obtaining O visas if they can demonstrate that they have extraordinary ability.
Physicians who do their residencies with J visas should consult an immigration attorney experienced in obtaining J waivers for physicians at least one year before completing their medical training in the US. This will give them enough time to find employment and to pursue a J waiver which usually requires them to practice in a medically-underserved area for a minimum of 3 years in H-1B status.
Further information is available on our J Waivers for Physicians page.