Foreign Educated Physical Therapists
If you are not a United States citizen, but interested in working in the United States, there are a few options to legally enter and work in the country. The United State Citizenship and Immigration Services is the agency that oversees the lawful immigration to the United States. There is no one path for every foreign national physical therapist or physical therapist assistant to enter the United States to work. Each individual will need to seek out information for his/her situation.
Foreign nationals immigrate to the United States for many different reasons and through different means. Most foreign nationals will enter the United States using either a family-based or employment-based Visa issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The individual may be coming for specific employment, accompanying a family member, studying in an American university/college, or simply by winning a special Visa through a government-sponsored lottery.
A Visa is a temporary pass into the United States, which may or may not authorize employment; an individual with a legal permanent resident (green) card has legal authorization to enter the United States, legally work, and stay indefinitely as long as all laws and requirements are met. Some, but not all, Visas may be a route to a green card. Requirements for different types of Visas vary significantly and are continuously changing. An individual can only apply for one type of Visa at any given time.
Not all foreign nationals in the country, even legally, are permitted to work. Visas that allow a foreign national to live in the United States do not necessarily allow a foreign national to work in the United States. When a foreign national seeks admission to the United States specifically to work as a physical therapist, USCIS requires the individual to have a Health Care Worker Certification (HCWC) prior to obtaining a Visa which allows an individual to work. The HCWC is not a Visa. However, there are at least 4 types of Visas that require the HCWC:
- H-1B Visa allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers (non-immigrant) in specialty occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher. An H-1B allows the foreign national to enter the USA for up to three years (extendable up to 6 years with some exceptions to extend beyond). The number of H-1B Visas are capped annually.
- EB2 is a permanent worker (immigrant) Visa allowing an individual holding an advanced degree to enter the United States for employment. The Visa holder will be eligible to apply for permanent resident (green card) status.
- EB3 is a permanent worker (immigrant) Visa allowing a skilled worker, professional, or other to enter the United States for employment. The Visa holder will be eligible to apply for permanent resident (green card) status.
- TN nonimmigrant classification allows, under the NAFTA agreement, a qualified Canadian or Mexican citizen to temporarily enter the United States to engage in professional level business activities.
The HCWC is for professions which have a minimum of a BS entry-level degree, as PTAs are considered para-professionals, they are not eligible for a HCWC. For a physical therapist, a Master’s degree is now the minimum requirement; an individual may have an entry-level BS, but will be required to have an additional MS. The HCWC is for immigration visa purposes only, and is not used for licensure.
Individuals may come to work in the United States with a HCWC and an appropriate Visa. The HCWC is valid for five years and may be renewed. If an individual becomes a legal permanent resident of the United States, he/she no longer needs the HCWC.
USCIS has approved two credentialing organizations, the Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy (FCCPT) and the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS), to verify the individual has met the minimum requirements and issue the certification. In order to obtain a HCWC, the individual must contact FCCPT or CGFNS. The FCCPT service is called the Comprehensive Credentials Review (Type 1 Review). CGFNS calls their service VisaScreen©.
For more information:
USCIS Temporary Workers
USCIS Permanent Workers
USCIS Student Visa
Health Care Worker Certification (HCWC)