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H-1B Option for Physical Therapists

Physical Therapists continue to be in demand in the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that their employment will grow by 30% from 2008 to 2018. A recent report by the American Physical Therapy Association shows that the vacancy rate of physical therapists ranges from 13.1% in outpatient settings to 18.6% in long term care settings.

Many physical therapists are recruited from foreign countries such as Philippines and India. There are two ways that they enter the U.S., namely, as nonimmigrants or immigrants.

The most common nonimmigrant option is the H-1B route. H-1B is reserved for specialty occupations and has an annual cap of 65,000. Hospitals and other health care facilities may be exempted from the cap if they are nonprofit organizations affiliated with an institution of higher education.

The position of physical therapist is a specialty occupation. But there was a question over a year ago as to whether a bachelor’s or master’s degree was required for H-1B. The Occupational Outlook Handbook in its 2009 edition stated that the minimum requirement for a physical therapist in the U.S. is a master’s degree so the USCIS denied H-1B petitions for physical therapists that did not have a master’s degree.

But the issue was resolved by the USCIS in a memo dated May 20, 2009. In that memo the USCIS said that in adjudicating H-1B petitions filed on behalf of beneficiaries in health care specialty occupation, the Occupational Outlook Handbook is only a starting point and that other authoritative sources such as the state licensing board standards must be consulted.

The USCIS memo went on to state that if the beneficiary has a valid license to practice physical therapy in the state of intended employment, the beneficiary will be considered to meet the qualifications to perform services in a specialty occupation, regardless of whether the said beneficiary has a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree.

The license may be unrestricted or restricted. If it is unrestricted the H1-B petition is approvable for up to 3 years. If it is restricted (e.g., license approved except for mandatory supervised practice) the petition may be approved for one year or for the duration of the license, whichever is longer.

There are states that do not issue a license because of a lack of social security card and/or evidence of employment authorization. So long as the beneficiary complies with the requirements for licensure and has filed an application for a license in accordance with the state rules and procedures, the H-1B petition may be approved but only for a period of one year.

If the beneficiary is abroad and therefore cannot take the licensure examination as it’s given only in the U.S., the H-1B petition may still be approved for one year provided the physical therapist has completed all the licensure requirements and is allowed to take the test once he/she arrives in the U.S.

A visa screen certificate is required to be submitted with the H-1B petition. This may be obtained from the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) or the Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy (FCCTP). The certificate which is valid for 5 years certifies that the physical therapist’s education, experience and training and English proficiency are equivalent to those of a U.S. worker.

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