The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa allows approved visitors to participate in work and study-based exchange visitor programs in the U.S. United States issues the J visa to professors, research scholars, and exchange visitors participating in activities and programs that promote cultural exchange. The applicants for the J-1 visa have to meet the eligibility criteria, including the language requirements. The H-1B visa is offered under the Immigration and Nationality Act section 101 (a) (15) H. This visa allows U.S. employers to employ aliens or foreign workers to work in specialty fields. If you need guidance regarding J visa and H-1B visa, the California Immigration Attorney can help you apply for a visa.

J Exchange Visitor Visa

If a foreign country wishes to enter the United States, they have to first obtain a visa. Visas mainly fall under two categories: the immigrant visas for permanent stay in the U.S. and the non-immigrant visas for a temporary stay. The J visa is a temporary visa for persons allowed to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. There are several categories of the J visitor exchange visas:

  • Au pair and Edu Care
  • Government visitor
  • Camp counselor
  • Intern
  • Physician
  • International visitor
  • Professor and research scholar

An exchange visitor cannot travel to the U.S. on visitor visas or Visa Waiver Programs. For you to participate in an exchange visitor program in the U.S, you must have a J visa. If you enter the U.S. on a visitor (B) visa or through a visa waiver program commonly abbreviated as VWP, you cannot join a study program.

If you seek acceptance into an exchange visitor program, the first step is to apply and gain acceptance into the exchange program. You have to apply through a designated sponsoring organization in the United States. To learn about the exchange program requirements and the applicable regulations, you should visit the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program website.

When the exchange visitor program receives and approves your application, your details will be entered in the SEVIS. SEVIS is the abbreviation for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. You have to pay the SEVIS i- 901 fees though there are some exceptions. For you to know whether you have to pay the fees, you should consult your exchange visitor program sponsor.

For additional information regarding SEVIS and the SEVIS I -901 fee, you should visit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website under the SEVP program. SEVP is the abbreviation for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

Applying for Exchange Visitor Visa

When applying for the exchange visitor visa, you have to follow several steps. The order of the stages involved in the visa application process may vary depending on the consulate of the U.S. Embassy involved. Some of the stages that you have to follow while applying for the visa are:

Filling the Online Application Form

You have to start by filling the online visa application form, Form DS-160. After filling the form successfully, you should print the confirmation page, which you will bring to the interview. While completing the online application form DS-160, you have to upload your photo. The photo must meet the photograph requirements for the visa application.

Scheduling a Visa Interview

While applying for a non-immigrant visa, you have to attend a visa interview. A visa interview is mandatory for non-immigrant visa applicants with a few exceptions. Interview exceptions are as below:

  • Persons of 13 years and below do not have to attend a visa interview
  • Persons between 14 and 79 years have to attend a visa interview though some exceptions exist for renewals
  • Persons of 80 years and above do not have to attend the visa interview

You should schedule an appointment for your visa interview with the consulate or the U.S. embassy in your country. You may also schedule a visa interview in another country other than the country where you live. However, it is essential to note that it might be difficult to prevail in the visa interview if you choose to do it in another country.

The interview's waiting periods may vary depending on the visa category, the season, and your location. To avoid unexpected delays, you should apply for the visa interview early. You can find information regarding the interview wait time for the Consulate or U.S. Embassy where you apply for a visa online.

You should pay the non-refundable visa fee if it is mandatory to pay the fee before your visa interview. After the approval of your non-immigrant visa, you may also have to pay the visa issuance fee. You will only pay the visa issuance fee if the charges apply to your nationality. You can access free information online.

You should review all the information available on the Consulate or U.S. Embassy's website where you are applying for the visa. It is worth noting that J visa applicants sponsored by the U.S. government do not have to pay the application processing fees together with their dependents. You do not have to pay the application processing fees if you participate in a USAID, Department of State, or a federally funded educational and cultural exchange program. You do not have to pay the application fees.

Gathering the Required Documentations

You have to gather all the required documentation while applying for the J visa. Some of the documents that you should prepare before the visa interview are:

A Valid Passport

You should have a valid passport to travel to the United States. The passport should be valid for a minimum of six months beyond the end of your stay in the U.S. However, you may be exempt from this requirement based on country-specific agreements. Every person seeking a visa has to submit an independent application. If your dependents are applying for a visa, each will have to submit an individual application.

Other necessary documents that you should have as you await the visa interview is:

  • The confirmation page from the non-immigrant visa application Form DS-160
  • A receipt indicating that you have paid the required visa application fees; You would provide the receipt if you were required to pay the visa application fee before attending the visa interview.
  • Your photo – While completing the online application Form DS-160, you have to upload your photo. If you do not manage to upload the photo, you have to bring a hard copy photo during the visa interview. The photo must comply with all the requirements for visa photos.
  • A certificate indicating your eligibility for the Exchange Visitor Status -your program sponsor will give a system-generated Form DS-2019 after entering your information in the SEVIS database.

The details of all exchange visitors have to be maintained in the SEVIS. If you have a spouse and children accompanying you to the U.S., each of them will receive an individual form DS-2019.

Internship or training placement Form DS-7002-if you are traveling to the United States as a trainee or intern; you have to provide Form DS-7002 in addition to the Form DS-2019.

Your Legal Rights and Protection

What will be your legal rights and protection after traveling to the U.S. on a visitor exchange program visa? You should go through the online legal rights and protections pamphlet to understand your legal rights when you go to the U.S. Ensure that you review and understand the legal requirements and protection before you apply for the visitor exchange program.

Additional Documents While Applying for J Visa

An officer at the Consular or U.S. Embassy will interview you to determine if you qualify for the exchange program visa. The consular officer may request additional documents. The officer may request evidence of:

  • The purpose of traveling to the U.S
  • Whether you plan to depart from the U.S. after completion of the exchange program
  • Whether you can meet all the travel costs

In some instances, your family ties and evidence of your employment may be enough to show your intent of travel and that you intend to return to your home country when the visa expires. If you do not have the financial capability to cater for your travel costs, you can prove that another person will cater to your travel expenses.

Attending the Visa Interview

When you attend the visa interview, the consular officer will determine whether you qualify for an exchange visitor visa. You have to prove that you meet all the United States law requirements to receive the visa. At times, the consular officer may decide that your application requires further administrative processing. After visa approval, you may have to pay a visa fee depending on the country of your origin or your nationality.

Entering the United States

It is important to note that receiving a visa does not guarantee acceptance into the United States. A visa merely allows a foreign citizen to travel up to the United States port of entry. At that point, you have to seek permission to enter the U.S. The officials from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security may grant or deny entry into the U.S. When you enter the United States, the CBP official will provide Form I-94 or an admission stamp.

H-1B Physician Visa

The H-1B visa is available to people in a specialty occupation, mainly physicians. The law defines a specialty career or occupation as one that calls for a bachelor's degree or a higher degree as the minimum entry requirement for the occupation. In addition to meeting the specialty occupation requirements, physicians also have to meet some additional qualifications specific to the practice of medicine.

The H-1B visas date back to the 1990S when Congress decided to provide physicians with a clearer path for entering the United States. Before then, the law had limited foreign physicians' participation, mainly limiting them to research or teaching. Congress opened a pathway for physicians to acquire temporary H-1B visas that allowed them to participate in medical fellowships and residences. The visa also allows physicians to perform patient care as long as they meet the set requirements.

As a foreign physician with an H-1B visa, you will be able to:

  • Work as a physician for a U.S. employer
  • Conduct research or to teach in a non-profit or a public research or educational institution or any other agency

U.S. immigration laws require foreign physicians to meet specific licensing and competency requirements. For instance, if you did not graduate from a medical school accredited by the United States Department of Education, you have to prove your English language competence. You have to undergo a test to gauge both your oral and written English skills.

While seeking the H-1B visa status, you will require a medical license from the state where you will practice. If you are an international medical graduate (IMG), you have to complete a medical residency in the United States before the state issues you a medical license. Most IMGs enter the U.S. with a J-1 visa to complete the medical residency.

A medical resident with a J-1 visa status has to return to their country of origin or the country of their last residence for two years. After two years, they can change their non-immigrant status into H or L categories and finally apply for permanent residence. However, J-1 physicians may apply for a waiver of this home residency requirement.

As an IMG, you may also obtain an H-1B visa to complete your medical residency in the U.S. If you complete your medical residency without the J-1 visa, you are eligible for sponsorship for the H-1B visa by your private employer. You can also apply for permanent residency in the U.S. upon completing your medical residency program. You will not have to submit a J-1 waiver before seeking to work in the U.S. as a physician.

Physicians Trained and Licensed in Canada

If you are educated, trained, and licensed in Canada, you will have some advantages over other international medical experts. However, you still have to pass the USMLE examination or prove that you did a comparable examination in the past and passed to be able to obtain H-1B status. However, most licensing commissions in the U.S. do not require Canadians to pass the USMLE examination to get a state license.

As a Canadian physician, if you do not want to take the USMLE, but you still want to practice medicine in the United States, you can obtain a permanent residence. Though the USMLE is a requirement for medicine's temporary practice in the U.S., it is not a requirement if you intend to practice medicine permanently.

Applying for H-1B Visa Status

When applying for the H-1B visa status, you have to follow three main steps:

  • Determine the prevailing physicians' wage in the geographical area where you intend to serve
  • Submit an application to the LCA ( Labor Condition Application) with the United States Department of Labor, commonly abbreviated as DOL.
  • File your H-1B visa petition with the relevant United States Citizenships and Immigration Services center.

Why is it essential to determine the prevailing wages for other physicians in the region you intend to serve? According to the United States Immigration laws, employers should pay H-1B visa holders the same wages as other physicians in the same region. If an employer violates this requirement, they may face severe penalties.

Labor Condition Application

Labor Condition Application is the second step while applying for the H-1B visa. In addition to meeting the minimum wage requirements, the LCA also requires employers affirm that:

  • The foreign physician's working conditions will not negatively affect those of U.S. physicians employed in a similar manner
  • There is no lockout of physicians or strike at the medical facility
  • The employer has given employees a notice of the filing of an LCA

The U.S. Department of Labor has the mandate to investigate the employer to establish whether the employer is complying with all the conditions set out in the approved LCA.

Filing the H-1B Petition

The third step after the approval of the LCA is the filing of the H-1B petition. You have to file the petition with the USCIS. Your petition should establish that the job offer and the applicant (foreign physician) meet the immigration law standards. Your employer in the U.S. must establish their ability to pay you. The wage should be equal to the prevailing wages for other physicians working in the same region.

However, the law is not clear regarding the demonstration of the employer's ability to pay the physician. In certain cases, the USCIS has allowed hospitals that do not employ physicians to act as petitioners as long as they guarantee the physicians' salaries.

What should the petition contain? The petition should contain documents demonstrating the physician's licenses, education, and compliance with English requirements. The petition should also demonstrate the physician's compliance with the medical examination requirements.

A physician may start working in the United States after the petition's approval, after changing their status to H-1B, or after obtaining an H-1B visa and entering the U.S.

Duration of Stay in the U.S

Your H-1B petition may be approved for up to three years. After this period, your H-1B visa status might be extended by up to six years. At the end of the six years, a physician must leave the United States. However, they may file for a one year or three years extension. The extension will depend on whether the physician has made progress in seeking an employment-based permanent residence in the United States.

H-1B Visa and Your Family

After you attain the H-1B visa status, your spouse and children below 21 years will acquire the H-4 visa status. The H-4 visa status will allow your family to live in the United States with you and attend school. However, the H-4 visa holders are not allowed to work in the U.S. If your family members intend to work while in the U.S., they have to seek a work-authorized status.

Preparing in Advance

If you seek employment in the U.S. as a physician, you should note that there are some special licensing conditions. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that you start planning early. If possible, you should start preparing before you even complete medical school in the county of your residence. It is not simple to get an H-1B visa or to acquire the H-1B status. However, with ample preparation and an immigration attorney's help, a foreign national can get work authorization in the United States.

H-1B Visas for Researchers and Teachers

Foreign nationals may come into the U.S. to perform research or to teach. In this case, only a minimal level of patient care is performed. For a foreign national to qualify to conduct research or teach in the U.S, they must prove that they have the required medical qualification and have a license from their home country. They must also prove that they have a license from the U.S. state where they will be working. 

H-1B Visas for Clinical Practice 

Foreign doctors can apply for the H-1B visa if you would like to engage in graduate medical education or clinical practice in the United States. However, you have to meet several requirements:

  • You should have authorization or a license applicable in the state or area where you intend to practice
  • You should have a degree from a foreign or a U.S. medical school a license to practice in your home country
  • You should have passed all the necessary examinations

All states in the U.S. require medical experts to have proper licensing to practice medicine. The licensing requirements extend to physicians participating in fellowship or residency programs. In some states, you can't sit USMLE step 3 before you engage in graduate medical education.  Some states might not grant you a license before proof of visa issuance.  You can get a note from the licensing board stating that visa is the only factor hindering licensing. In most cases, this declaration will satisfy the USCIS. 

Find a California Immigration Attorney Near Me

If you seek to enter the U.S. with a J or an H-1B physician visa, the California Immigration Attorney will guide you through the visa application process and visa requirements. Contact us at 424-789-8809 and speak to one of our attorneys.