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Physical Therapists – Immigrant Visa

Physical Therapists seeking to work temporarily in the U.S. are eligible for H-1B non-immigrant visas and TN non-immigrant visas (for nationals of Canada or Mexico only). Physical Therapists (“PTs) seeking immigrant visas (“green card”) operate under an easier system and get their green cards much faster than many of the other professions.

Unlike many of the other employment based immigrant visa categories, the labor certification requirement does not apply to PTs. This is because the occupation is a “Schedule A” occupation, meaning it has already been certified by the Department of Labor. This makes the process much shorter than for categories that do require a labor certification.

Is there a cap or numerical limitation?

Physical Therapists fit into a green card category with a limited quota. During early 2005, the category for nationals of the Philippines, India and China was backlogged by several years and many nurses were affected. As a result, Congress signed a bill in May 2005 that created 50,000 additional visas for RNs, physical therapists, and their spouses and children. The additional 50,000 visas were only expected last to the end of 2006, and unless more visas are made available, the backlogs are expected to return. Accordingly, employers are urged to act quickly.

“Schedule A” Occupations

“Schedule A” is a list of occupations, set forth at 20 CFR 656.15, for which the Department of Labor has determined there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified and available. In addition, “Schedule A” establishes that the employment of foreign workers in such occupations will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers similarly employed. On the “Schedule A” list PTs are defined as follows:

Physical Therapists – who possess all the qualifications necessary to take the physical therapist licensing examination in the state in which they propose to practice physical therapy; and Note that this pre-certification is limited in scope.

  1. Requirements

For a physical therapist to obtain permanent residency through the “Schedule A” category, the applicant must meet the following requirements:

  • He or she must have a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy or the equivalent; and
  • Have a license to practice in his or her state of intended employment; or
  • Have a letter from a state licensing agency stating that the applicant is qualified to take the state licensing examination.
  1. VisaScreen

U.S. immigration law now requires that healthcare professionals, other than physicians, complete a screening program in order to qualify for certain occupational visas. VisaScreen, a program offered by the International Commission On Healthcare Professions (ICHP), enables healthcare professionals to meet this requirement by verifying and evaluating their credentials to ensure compliance with the government’s minimum eligibility standards. The VisaScreen certificate is submitted at the foreign PT’s immigrant visa interview or with application for adjustment of status (see section II below for more information).

A VisaScreen certificate is issued only after the PT has demonstrated that:

(1) His/her education, license and training are equivalent to education, licensure and training in the U.S., that all professional licenses are valid and unencumbered; and

(2) His/her level of competence in oral and written English are appropriate to practice professional nursing in the U.S.

The regulations also require foreign-born PTs who are educated, licensed and trained in the U.S. to obtain a VisaScreen certificate. However, such PTs may be able to obtain a VisaScreen certificate on a streamlined basis.

  1. Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy (FCCPT)

The FCCPT is a non-profit organization created to assist the USCIS and U.S. state licensing authorities by evaluating the credentials of Foreign Educated Physical Therapists (FEPTs) who wish to immigrate and work in the United States. The purpose of this evaluation is to determine whether FEPTs have acquired credentials that are equivalent to those required of Physical Therapists (PTs) educated in the U.S.

To learn about the process for submitting an application to the FCCPT, please visit their website: https://online.fccpt.org/app/

  1. Licensure Requirements

Physical Therapists are also required to adhere to licensing requirements of the state in which they intend to work. Licensing requirements for PTs are maintained on a state-by-state basis, and each state has slightly different requirements for licensing. Physical therapists educated in the U.S. must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and meet other criteria determined by each state in order to be licensed. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) is the organization responsible for the development and administration of the NPTE for 53 state licensing jurisdictions. Foreign educated physical therapists must also undergo a credentials evaluation and meet other criteria in order to obtain a license to practice physical therapy in most U.S. licensing jurisdictions.

  1. English Language Requirement

Every foreign health care worker must meet certain English language requirements in order to obtain a certificate unless otherwise exempted. The following testing services had been approved:

Educational Testing Service (ETS)

Test of English in International Communication (TOEIC)

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

Foreign health care workers may be automatically deemed to have met the English language and/or educational comparability requirements if they have graduated from certain programs or from programs in certain countries:

  • Graduates of health professional programs in Australia, Canada (except Quebec), Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States; and
  • For physical therapists, graduation from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
  1. Filing the I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition on Behalf of a foreign PT

The initial step in a “Schedule A” case is to file an I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition package with the appropriate USCIS Regional Service Center. The petition is filed by a U.S. Employer (Petitioner) on behalf of the foreign nurse (Beneficiary). NOTE: If the Beneficiary is already in the U.S., he/she and her accompanying family members may apply for adjustment of status at the same time as filing the Immigrant Visa petition.

  1. The I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition package must include the following:
    • Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker, with appropriate filing fee
    • An uncertified Form ETA-9089, Application for Permanent Employment Certification
    • A Wage Determination issued by the State Workforce Agency (SWA) having jurisdiction over the proposed area where the job opportunity exists. Employers are required to pay 100 percent of the prevailing wage determination.
    • Copy of the posted Notice and Attestation
      • This Notice must include a job description, work hours, and rate of pay and must be posted in the worksite for a minimum of ten consecutive business days.
      • In addition, the employer must publish the Notice in any and all in-house media, whether electronic or printed, in accordance with the normal procedures used for the recruitment of similar position in the employer’s organization.
      • The Attestation must identify the physical location/s where the Notice was posted and the date of publishing all in-house media
    • Evidence of the employer’s ability to pay the physical therapist.
      • Copies of annual reports, federal tax returns or audited financial statements
      • If the employer has at least 100 employees, a detailed letter from the CFO will usually suffice.
    • Evidence of a permanent license to practice in the state of intended employment; or,

A letter or statement, signed by an authorized state physical therapy licensing official, stating that the beneficiary is qualified to take the state’s written licensing examination for physical therapists.

  • Physical therapy diploma/degree
  • Physical therapist registration/licensure from the country where the degree was obtained

For PTs already in the U.S. who are filing for adjustment of status concurrently with the immigrant visa petition, be sure to review the article entitled Adjustment of Status for detailed information on the forms and documents to be submitted. Additionally, see section below on “VisaScreen”.

Applicants who have their VisaScreen certificate when the I-140 immigrant petition is filed should include it as an attachment to the Form I-485 (adjustment of status). Note: The CIS will send an RFE requesting the VisaScreen before approving the I-485 application for adjustment of status.

  1. Visa Issuance

As aforementioned, PTs already in the U.S. may file for adjustment of status at the time of filing the I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition. If for some reason, he/she does not file for adjustment of status at that time, he/she may apply any time after the I-140 package is submitted or approved.

If the PT is outside the U.S., once the USCIS approves the I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition they will forward the approved visa petition to the National Visa Center (NVC) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The PT (or the attorney) receives a “fee bill” asking for all government processing fees to be paid in advance of processing the application and those of his/her immediate family members. After the fees are paid, the NVC forwards a packet to the PT (or the attorney) containing biographical information forms to be completed by the PT and his/her family members, and a list of documents which must be submitted.

The PT, or the attorney, then sends the signed and completed forms and documents to the NVC which then schedules an appointment for an Immigrant Visa Interview for the PT and his/her family at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy where he/she resides. At this interview, the Consular Officer will examine various documents including:

    • Applications for Immigrant Visas

(Available at the Department of State’s website. In addition, these forms may now be e-filed at many consulates.)

    • Police Clearances

(Information on obtaining these can be found at the Department of State’s website’s section on Reciprocity Schedules)

  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Certificate, if any
  • Divorce or Death Certificate of Spouse, if any
  • Valid Passports
  • Medical Examinations
  • Photographs
  • Recent job offer letter (or employment contract)
  • Financial information regarding employer
  • Government filing fees
  • VisaScreen Certificate (see section above entitled “VisaScreen”)

Consulates set their own interview policies and procedures regarding immigrant visa interviews. Be sure to check the consulate’s website for their specific instructions.